Thursday, August 13, 2015

Rodriguez v. Robbins (9th Cir. - Aug. 13, 2015)

Sarah S. Wilson works as a trial attorney at the Department of Justice in the Office of Immigration Litigation in Washington D.C.  She's young; she graduated from the University of Georgia Law School, and joined the Georgia Bar in 2009.

A couple of weeks ago, Ms. Wilson did an oral argument in an immigration case in front of the Ninth Circuit.  The argument did not start out especially well.  As she began making her argument, multiple members of the panel told Ms. Wilson to slow down, and to talk a little more clearly.  Ms. Wilson took the advice in stride.  I can't say she entirely complied with their counsel, but presentation styles are notoriously difficult to change, especially on the fly, and especially for young lawyers.  I empathize with her plight.  But she tried her best.

But things then got worse.  Ms. Wilson then referred in oral argument to a story that had been published three days earlier in the L.A. Times.  The panel asked if this newspaper article was in the record, and Ms. Wilson was forced to concede that it was not.  That's a problem.

But it got worse still.  Judge Wardlaw, in particular, was exceptionally interested in the timing and nature of the article.  She noted that the article quoted "federal authorities" as the source of its information and wanted to know if the U.S. had planted the story in an attempt to influence the panel.  Ms. Wilson responded that it wasn't the U.S.'s policy to comment on its sources, and said she didn't know a number of details about the story.  But Judge Wardlaw was relentless, and wanted to know the scoop.  The full scoop.

Today, things got about as bad as they can get for Ms. Wilson.  The Ninth Circuit issued the following order:

"Counsel for Appellants/Cross-Appellees is ordered to show cause why sanctions should not be imposed for the improper oral argument before this Court on July 24, 2015, based on an L.A. Times news article, published July 21, 2015, three days before oral argument in this case, entitled 'Suspect was fighting deportation,' the source for which is identified as 'federal authorities' and which directly references and quotes from earlier proceedings in this case. Fed. R. App. P. 46(c); Circuit Rule 46-2(a); ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct 3.5.

Counsel shall also provide the Court and opposing counsel with copies of the transcripts of the bond hearings for Mr. Keane Dean, including both the preliminary and the Rodriguez hearings, as well as any other bond hearings that may have taken place in Mr. Dean’s immigration proceedings, to which counsel also improperly referred during the July 24, 2015 oral argument."