Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Judge Who Deports U.S. Citizen Has Heavy Finger on the Stop Button: Digital Audio Recording of Mark Lyttle's Hearing Has Long Gaps

On December 9, 2008 Immigration Judge-For-Now William Cassidy signed an order deporting Mark Lyttle to Mexico. Mark is a U.S. citizen who was born in the United States, in Salisbury, North Carolina, and who twice informed the judge of this fact. Mark does not speak a word of Spanish.

There are four actions Cassidy has undertaken that go far beyond a moment's poor judgment and that I believe disqualify him holding the title of immigration judge. I have left messages with various staff at the Atlanta Immigration Court requesting an interview with Cassidy and he has not replied, although he has been talking about details of Mark's case with attorneys who do not represent Mark in an effort to gain their sympathy. I believe Cassidy is not talking to me because he knows I cannot be manipulated by him, and not because he is averse to speaking about his hearings to third parties.

1) By Cassidy's own admission, conveyed by colleagues reporting on their conversations with him, Cassidy was aware that Mark was diagnosed as bipolar and that Mark had signed a sworn statement indicating he was born in the United States.

A nationally prominent immigration attorney who deals with Cassidy regularly, and was attempting to excuse Cassidy's actions, sent the following message to a listserve of other immigration attorneys:

I have talked to Cassidy about this case ... The I-213, is written up and says that he and his parents are all born in Mexico, notes he claims to be bipolar, and then notes that he says he was born in South Carolina [sic--Mark was born in North Carolina]."

The attorney then states, "There is nothing on the 4 minute tape in which Little says: "Hey, stop, I am a US Citizen."

The attorney is referring to a portion of a Digital Audio Recording (DAR) produced by immigration judges as an official record of the hearing. The DARs are supposed to be inclusive of the entire hearing unless otherwise indicated. According to the Immigration Court Practice Manual:

The entire hearing is recorded except for those occasions when the Immigration Judge authorizes an off-the-record discussion. On those occasions, the results of the off- the-record discussion are summarized by the Immigration Judge on the record. The Immigration Judge asks the parties if the summary is true and complete, and the parties are given the opportunity to add to or amend the summary, as appropriate. Parties should request such a summary from the Immigration Judge, if the Immigration Judge does not offer one.

According to the 15 minute DAR for the hearing sent to Mark's attorney, Neil Rambana, there is no discussion at all of Mark's U.S. citizenship status. This is damning for Cassidy for two reasons.

The immigration judge benchbook contains extensive instructions for how immigration judges should engage respondents who do not have legal counsel and who have possible citizenship defenses. These include a series of questions that the judge supposed to ask the respondent about his parents, his place of birth, age, and an instruction that those who may be U.S. citizens should be given N600 forms so they may apply for a certificate of U.S. citizenship. Crucially, the judge is instructed to affirmatively explore possible defenses against deportation with pro se respondents: "Examine the respondent to determine what remedies against deportation may be available for him or her."

In short, the DAR silence on Mark's U.S. citizenship status, in light of Cassidy's alleged concession that he understood Mark had submitted a sworn statement that he was born in the United States, means that the DAR demonstrates Cassidy's failure to fulfill his professional responsibilities. Cassidy's own statements to his colleagues suggests that the DAR should have included an extensive exchange between Cassidy and Mark regarding Mark's U.S. citizenship, not silence on this matter.

I'm also not sure how anyone would find a statement that a respondent claims to be bipolar is grounds for supporting a deportation order, and not ordering a psychiatric evaluation and further inquiry into Mark's mental competence regarding his other statements.

In addition, the DAR reveals several other inconsistencies between how Cassidy ran the Master Calendar hearing on December 9, 2008 and how judges who follow the rules run their hearings. These range from him not naming the translator to improperly turning on and off the recording device without summarizing the events "off the record" to reading instructions to the respondents in a voice that is too fast to be properly understood in English, and without allowing time for the translator to translate. You can go through the Master Calendar immigration judge benchbook checklist and compare that with the DAR and most of what's supposed to be there is missing, including the individual interviews with the respondents.

2) The DAR was made in a manner entirely inconsistent with the EOIR rules. It is not a complete record and its omissions are not properly noted. This is evident from the DAR itself. There is at least one point at which it quite obviously goes off and on and picks up in an entirely new sentence with no note made of the stoppage. Moreover, at 15 minutes for 30 respondents, it is far too short to be a complete record.

According to a court watcher who has attended Cassidy's court, this is par for the course: "He does not say whether he's recording or not recording. I know Judge Sease says, 'This is off the record,' and then turns it back it on." The court watcher said it was impossible to tell from watching when the recorder was off or on. Another court watcher told me that Cassidy will say something is off the record but only when he physically leaves the room during a conference between an attorney (who is in the courtroom in Atlanta) and the client (at the Stewart Detention Center). This court watcher did not recall other occasions in which the judge said events were on and off the record.

A hearing for 30 people is going to take much longer than 15 minutes. Either the DAR that was sent to Mark's attorney, Neil Rambana, was not the entire DAR, or, Cassidy only recorded the formal portions at the hearing's beginning roll call and the final formal orders at the end. Both possibilities call into question Cassidy's account of the events that day.

3) Cassidy made statements to the Atlanta immigration legal community and to his superiors at the EOIR about the events in the courtroom the day he deported Mark that are flatly contradicted by Mark and for which Mark produced contemporaneous documentary evidence that supports Mark's account. (The manner in which Cassidy made these statements to his superiors is something I still am not at liberty to reveal, but that will change shortly; at that point I look forward to posting on the evil of banality.)

According to Mark, he told Cassidy he was a U.S. citizen not once, but twice. Mark said that after their names were read, Cassidy interviewed each of the respondents. I asked him how long the exchanges took and he said it depended on whether the respondent was challenging the deportation. None of these exchanges are on the DAR, including TWO in which the respondents had defenses of U.S. citizenship. Mark said,
"One guy was detained for a very long time. I heard his lawyer. She was finding out how long he was detained and Cassidy said, 'Send me whatever you have.' They were basically trying to get him out. They had too many American documents that he was a U.S. citizen." Mark thought this respondent had been in detention for more than two years.

He also told me about another U.S. citizen, "a guy with dreds from Jamaica. He spoke a lot of English." Mark said that ICE lost his paperwork and they had to release him, "He was American."

When it was Mark's turn he felt discouraged and intimidated and in his first statement told Cassidy, "I'm an American. I was born and raised here, but you can deport me if you like." Mark said there were two groups--those who were appealing and those who had agreed to be deported, and that Mark initially agreed to be in the latter group.

However, as he was listening to people talk and the hearing progressed, Mark changed his mind and told a guard he had something else to say, "I need to speak to the judge." The guard told him to wait until everybody was done.

I asked for more details on how the guard did this and Mark said there was a "very low door" and that "the guard had to go up to the judge on the TV, and he said I had another comment to make." That's when Mark told Cassidy the narrative about his U.S. citizenship I reported on previous occasions. Mark said that Cassidy told him he had to "go by the statement of a sworn ICE agent." Mark asked to see a copy of what the judge was examining and was upset that this did not occur.

Mark had never been in an immigration court before the day he met Cassidy and would be incapable of inventing the detailed narrative he gave me; also, as opposed to Cassidy, Mark has no incentive to lie since ICE had noted Mark's claims to U.S. citizenship and some government agency, be it ICE, the prison, Stewart, and the immigration judge, was responsible for investigating their validity, even if Mark didn't say a word that day.

Finally, Mark filed written grievances on ICE forms against Cassidy at the time of the deportation order and in the subsequent days before he was sent to Mexico, because Cassidy never sent Mark the paperwork he promised he would. These grievances should be at the Stewart Detention Center and hopefully Mark and his attorneys will obtain them and this will further substantiate his narrative.

4) Well there is a number four and it's a doozy, so stay tuned. Hopefully by the time that is resolved Cassidy will be profusely apologizing to Mark and the immigration law community in Atlanta.


EOIR Counsel for Legislative and Public Affairs Fatimah Mateen told me Monday that "someone" whose name she could not recall decided EOIR could not comment on Lyttle's case and that she would consult her notes in order to tell me who this was; she never did tell me this, but I learned today that "someone" was in fact Mateen herself.

EOIR's Mateen's obfuscation on this and other matters is a funny echo chamber of Cassidy's own efforts to avoid transparency, accountability, and to shift responsibility elsewhere. Agency staff lead by example and the EOIR Counsel has set a tone Cassidy and others seem happy to follow.

DOJ Public Affairs Officer Charles Miller, who is obtaining his information from Mateen and EOIR's Public Affairs Officer Elaine Komis, told me that they were not commenting on Cassidy's conduct because of "privacy concerns" for Mark Lyttle, which of course makes no sense.

One needs to have no information whatsoever about Mark to be instructed on whether the EOIR believes that Cassidy recorded the hearing properly, was being disciplined for deporting a U.S. citizen, or to learn the extent of complaints against immigration judges for not recording their hearings-- all of which were questions on which Miller at the DOJ, at the behest of Mateen, would not comment.

UPDATE JUNE 16, 2009: Please see comment submitted by reader on previous misconduct by Cassidy.


Anonymous said...

[quote]In January 1997, Atlanta immigration attorney David Farshy filed a motion asking Cassidy to recuse himself from a case in which Farshy's client, a convicted kidnapper, had applied for asylum. Farshy believed he stood no chance with Cassidy, who, Farshy says, consistently ruled against his clients and repeatedly mispronounced his name as "Farsy." ("It was demeaning," Farshy says now.) On April 15, Cassidy called Farshy's office to talk about the case. After leaving a message on Farshy's answering machine, Cassidy, evidently believing he had hung up, resumed a conversation with government attorney Grace Sease, who was in the judge's office. Farshy's machine recorded what was said.

"The board is not going to uphold me, but hell, I am going to give him a hard way to go," Cassidy was recorded as saying. Sease, who is now an immigration judge in Pennsylvania, laughed.

To Farshy, the conversation was irrefutable evidence that Cassidy not only had engaged in ex parte communication -- talking with the government attorney without Farshy present -- but had pre-judged the case before it was even heard. The next day, Farshy submitted a transcript of the recorded conversation as further evidence that Cassidy should recuse himself. After reviewing the transcript, Cassidy agreed to recuse himself, according to a complaint that Farshy filed with Cassidy's bosses. But then, moments later, Cassidy reversed himself and announced he would remain as judge. He eventually denied the asylum request.

Farshy was flabbergasted. In his complaint, he wrote that "all of the ... actions and conducts were due to Judge Cassidy's intent to follow only his own personal prejudices and bias, in expense of compromising law and justice."

In the final sentence of his three-and-a-half-page complaint, Farshy wrote, "I cannot trust such a judge and in my opinion no one else should trust him."

Farshy appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which, a year later, ruled that Cassidy's actions "raised the appearance of impropriety and should have led to a finding that he was disqualified from hearing the case." But Cassidy's ultimate decision -- to deny asylum -- had been correct, the board ruled. And so, because what really mattered to the board was Cassidy's final decision, not the way in which he made it, the board deemed his error "harmless."

In September 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility, in response to Farshy's complaint, acknowledged that Cassidy had made brief ex parte comments about Farshy's client's case. Nevertheless, Cassidy's conduct "did not constitute professional misconduct or poor judgment." Nor, the investigation concluded, did Cassidy issue an erroneous decision or "pre-judge the matter." [quote]

Anonymous said...

he is a person that hates all races that is not white people are suppose to be able to come to the land of the free yea right that is a damn joke u need to get him off the bench he is a unfair s.o.b

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