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Legal Aid Raps Immigration Judge : Foundation Asks He Be Barred From Hearing Its Cases

Times Staff Writer

The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles sought Thursday to have a local immigration judge barred from hearing cases brought by the public-interest law firm because of what officials alleged is a pattern of harassment of attorneys and bias against Central American immigrants.

In a letter to Chief Immigration Judge William R. Robie in Falls Church, Va., the foundation alleged that Immigration Judge Roy Daniel “has demonstrated prejudice against (Legal Aid) staff which is virulent to the extreme.”

Legal Aid Executive Director Katharine Krause wrote that Judge Daniel “has repeatedly demonstrated an inappropriate hostility to asylum seekers from Central America.”

She concluded her petition by writing: “As (Judge) Daniel has repeatedly demonstrated that he cannot act as an impartial trier of fact, he must not be permitted to hear cases involving (Legal Aid) staff or their clients.”

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Chief Judge Robie was not available to comment on Legal Aid’s protest and, according to court officials, had not yet received the letter.

Daniel said he could not comment without permission from the chief judge.

Immigration judges work in a separate court system that operates within the Department of Justice to hear cases brought by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The Legal Aid request marks the second time in as many years that the public-interest law firm has tangled with Daniel.

In 1986, Legal Aid filed a class-action suit against Daniel alleging that he illegally blocked aliens from filing asylum applications. After the suit was filed, the chief immigration judge intervened, stopped Judge Daniel’s practice and ordered the INS to halt deportations of all aliens who had had applications summarily dismissed by Daniel.

Those orders rendered the lawsuit moot. But U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima granted Legal Aid $68,365 in attorney’s fees because Daniel’s “practice was clearly contrary to applicable law and resulted in depriving aliens who appeared before him of their legal rights.”

Gerald Hurwitz, counsel to the director of the Office of Immigration Review, said Legal Aid’s request and its earlier lawsuit were both very unusual occurrences.

In support of Legal Aid’s request, Krause submitted sworn declarations by four attorneys who have appeared before Daniel. The attorneys said Daniel routinely badgers defendants from Central America, prohibits key witnesses from testifying and makes derogatory remarks about defense attorneys in the presence of their clients.

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Sandra B. Pettit, directing attorney with Legal Aid’s immigrant rights office, said in her declaration that after appearing before hundreds of state, federal and administrative law judges, “never . . . have I witnessed a client badgered, abused and ridiculed to such a degree by an ostensibly impartial examiner and never have I been treated in such a hostile, derisive and contemptuous manner as in my appearances before Roy Daniel.”

Pettit swore that Daniel once said from the bench that “he had never had such a display of incompetency in his courtroom” after she presented a case.

However, Tashima said in his ruling in the class-action suit brought by Pettit, that “few lawyers were qualified or willing to undertake this difficult representation.” He ordered that she be paid 50% more than the standard government rate of $75 an hour because of her outstanding work.

M. Esther Enriquez, an attorney with the AFL-CIO Immigrant Assistance Project, said in a sworn declaration that “every time I made an appearance on behalf of an individual seeking political asylum I was confronted with hostility and cynicism by Judge Daniel.” In one case, she wrote, Daniel refused to grant a continuance in a case when a defendant’s father died, but moments later granted one on the request of the INS trial attorney so she could attend choir practice.

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