Some recent referrals

Sunday, May 18th, 2008
By: Jonathan MontagJ.D.

Lawyers depend on referrals. At least this one does. The line, “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” could be referring to my need for referrals as much as to the New Jersey statue. It is also flattering when a peer places his trust in you enough to “send someone over.” My fifteen minutes of fame came from a referred case.

In the last three weeks, three referrals from three separate attorneys have shocked my conscious. In one, a man was charged $5000 for his attorney to file a Notice of Appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals of a decision in which the same lawyer represented the man. The notice of appeal was one very pedestrian sentence long. The nature of it was that a recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision was wrong. The sentence was about fifteen words long. I doubt even John Roberts made that kind of money per word when he was in private practice. The kicker was the lawyer wanted $5000 more to then write the brief. The lawyer sent the man over for a second opinion – as if I was going to say that I thought $10,000 was a reasonable fee to write a brief with just one legal issue completely unencumbered by having to do any complicated application of facts to law.
Another lawyer sent over a case where a man, at the lawyer’s instigation, spent more than a year in detention at the grim CCA detention facility in Otay Mesa fighting his removal by making obscure Constitutional arguments unrelated to his conduct or the basis for his removal. While we all lawyers at times make arguments that try to stretch the law, we don’t make them in dead loser cases when the alien suffers in harsh detention conditions for more than a year with a likelihood of success of nil. Having been handed the case to study, I called the family to discuss the situation with them. They recounted their extreme financial sacrifice in being enticed to continue to fight and take appeals in a case completely unworthy of the fight.

And then a third shocker. A man came in with his file referred by a colleague. The colleague wanted me to handle an appeal to the circuit court of appeals. The man, through his attorney, made arguments to excuse his missing his court date – a fatal move in immigration law. The immigration judge and Board of Immigration Appeals rejected the explanations as unbelievable and contrary to other evidence in the record. When I asked the client why he missed court, his explanation was completely at odds with his arguments to the court and BIA. The first time he heard the reasons his attorney gave for missing court was when I read the declaration to him from the file he brought me to review. [I cannot discount that he was playing dumb with me.]

My consternation is not because the cases are difficult or long shots. I have put up the noble fight for my clients in long shots many, many times over the years and have prevailed in many. All lawyers have. The issue is emphatically not about not wanting to make the tough arguments. The questions have to do with boundless greed and ethical bankruptcy.

Also, I wonder what character flaw these lawyers had seen in me to think that I would participate in things like this. Do they think charging people $350 per word is so normal and acceptable that they are not afraid to let me see it? Do they think that I use false hopes and coercion to compel families to impoverish themselves to make fatuous legal arguments while their loved one goes slowly mad in the immigration Gulag? Do they think I would not notice that the client’s version of events in a case is completely at odds with the lawyer’s and not tell the client of the disconnect?



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