Monday, January 23, 2006

Ray v. Gonzales (9th Cir. - Jan. 20, 2006)

Yuck. How depressing is it when you learn just how terrible and sleazy some lawyers are? Especially when it is in an area, like asylum, where -- no exaggeration -- a client's life may potentially be at stake, and in which their continuing financial and physical welfare indisputably is.

Like here. Jaib Ray seeks asylum in the United States because he's part of a Sikh separatist group that seeks an independent state and hence allegedly fears persecution by authorities in India. He hires an attorney -- Jang Im, from the Law Offices of Maden Ahluwalia (note the repeated ethical misconduct described at the bottom of this page) -- and applies, and Ray testifies at his hearing in Punjabi. Thereafter, when Ray files his Notice of Appeal (and supporting materials), he does so allegedly pro se, though these documents are suspiciously both in English and reflect legal expertise. No small task for the "pro se" Ray, who doesn't even speak the language.

Then the real fun begins. Normally, I'd describe the various levels of misconduct at length, in my own (often misspelled) words. Fortunately, however, Judge Betty Fletcher does a great job of at least summarizing what then transpires. So I'll use her words instead. Here's what she says:

"Like a set of nested Russian dolls, the case reveals one layer of allegedly incompetent representation after another. Ray asserts that his first attorney, Jang Im, denied him due process by failing to file his brief on appeal. Ray asserts that his second attorney, Anthony Egbase, denied him due process by failing to file his first motion to reopen in a timely fashion. Ray asserts that his third attorney, Martin Guajardo [be sure to note the long rap sheet at the end of his disciplinary record], denied him due process by failing to contest the BIA’s decision to deny his first motion to reopen (or, for that matter, to do anything else).

We find that Ray has been denied due process because of the failure of his last two attorneys, Mr. Egbase and Mr. Guajardo, to litigate his case in a timely fashion. There is no question that these two attorneys have provided assistance so poor that Ray has been 'prevented from reasonably presenting his case.' Lopez, 775 F.2d at 1017. The former dallied for several months before missing filing deadlines, neglecting filing requirements, and ultimately costing Ray the opportunity to have his first motion to reopen heard on the merits. [Also take a look at Footnote 1 of the opinion, from which does not take a very positive feeling about Egbase's credibility and veracity.] The latter, according to the record, took from Ray $10,000 in fees and — despite ethically dubious promises that he 'knew judges' [Guajardo allegedly convinced Ray to retain him because he 'knew judges who would grant his motion' and told Ray 'not to worry'] — provided no substantive legal assistance whatsoever; in doing nothing, he condemned to failure Ray’s second motion to reopen. Indeed, these attorneys have prevented Ray not only from 'reasonably presenting his case,' but from presenting his case at all. Their performance unquestionably constitutes ineffective assistance."

So that's the "help" that Ray received -- and paid handsomely for -- in connection with his asylum application. Impressive, eh? Makes me definitely want to be an incompetent lawyer ripping off would-be immigrants who are desperate to avoid torture in their home countries. Oh yeah. That's the life for me.

P.S. - I randomly noticed that the attorney who represented the INS was Kristin Cabral, whom I believe was a contemporary (and classmate) of mine at HLS. So a shout out to Kristin. Though I wish she had been on the other side in this one!