As a member of the professional services team, the non-legal side of the Firm, I have few reasons to ever enter a courthouse. Unlike my colleagues in our Litigation Department, my role at the Firm does not require me to observe hearings, converse with judges, or discuss the legal and administrative challenges that are pervasive in our court system. Yet, last week I found myself doing just that. Through a program called “Judge for a Day” organized by Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT), I had the unique opportunity to join the LIFT staff at the Kings County Family Court in downtown Brooklyn for a fully immersive court experience.
Recent events have created an urgent need for an independent Immigration Court separate from the Department of Justice. On October 17, Proskauer hosted a panel discussion in its New York office co-sponsored by Sanctuary for Families, the New York Immigration Coalition, and the Federal Bar Association’s Immigration Law Section entitled, “Lives in the Balance: Eviscerating Asylum Protection for Victims of Gender Violence.” The speakers included The Hon. Carolyn Maloney, U.S. Representative from New York’s 12th Congressional District, the Hon. Amiena Khan, Executive Vice President, National Association of Immigration Judges, Lori Adams, Director, Immigration Intervention Project at Sanctuary for Families, and Lisa Koenig, a Partner at Fragomen.
The immigration lawyers on the panel provided different perspectives on Matter of A-B, a consequential decision from last summer where the Attorney General purported to overrule Immigration Court precedent, and thereby limit the availability of domestic violence as a basis for asylum. Aside from placing the law on asylum in flux, the AG’s action raises the important question of how a cabinet-level, executive branch official could claim the authority to reverse a court’s decision.
In this Q&A, partner Betsy Plevan shares her experience supporting the Office of the Appellate Defender’s First Monday in October Gala fundraiser, where she served as a mock Supreme Court Justice on the All-Star Bench in support of a great cause. The Office of Appellate Defender NYC provides appellate representation to indigent persons convicted of felonies.
Tell us a little about your connection to the Office of the Appellate Defender, and the purpose of the First Monday Gala.
Betsy: The OAD is widely known as one of the leading private non-profit organizations providing legal services to poor people. I’ve had the privilege of working on many pro bono matters dedicated to civil rights throughout my career, and my specific involvement with the OAD dates back 10 years to when I was a recipient of its annual Milton S. Gould Award for Outstanding Oral Advocacy.
It was unlike any courtroom I had seen before. The Immigration Judge appeared on a video screen a little blurry but larger than life. My client, an eight-year-old girl, sat next to me at a long table. This proceeding in Dilley, Texas was not open to the public but was held behind two locked doors in a trailer secured within a sprawling “family residential center” that despite its friendly name, had all the indicia of a jail.
This was an expedited removal proceeding, and I was appealing an asylum officer’s negative credible fear determination for my young client. Her mother’s appeal already had been denied so this was our last chance to prevent the two from being deported. Especially considering my client’s age, I wanted to marshal the evidence and explain why the legal standard had been met in this case. “May I be heard Your Honor?” I asked. “No, you may not,” he responded. The Judge asked my client a few questions with little follow-up and denied the appeal, wishing my client, “good luck in your home country.”