Judges Renew Calls For Immigration Court Reform

After a period of relative quiet, the immigration judges facing hundreds of thousands of cases are speaking out, calling for help amid a crisis. A new NPR report explains that “… as Congress debates the fate of President Obama’s immigration policies, the nation’s immigration court system is bogged down in delays exacerbated by the flood of unaccompanied minors who crossed the southern border last summer. The administration made it a priority for those cases to be heard immediately. As a result, hundreds of thousands of other cases have been delayed until as late as 2019.”
 
NPR adds that “even before this past summer’s surge of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum, the immigration courts were already clogged, says Judge Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. There were too many cases for too few judges, and adding in the cases of the unaccompanied minors only made matters worse. There are currently more than 429,000 cases pending in the courts with just 223 judges.
 
The “judges” are not part of the usual judicial system, but are actually employees of the Justice Department – that means, for example, that they could not hold government agents – really, their co-workers – in contempt of court during one of the hearings. Read more: Immigration Courts ‘Operating In Crisis Mode,’ Judges Say

New Courts Director Targets Pension Reform

That state auditor’s report illustrating free-spending ways for
California’s top courts officials has helped spark some reform. The
Courthouse News reports that “… in his first round of big changes to
California’s court bureaucracy, new director Martin Hoshino answered a
scathing report from the state auditor with a series of reforms that
included eliminating a lavish pension benefit for the top brass.

The CN adds that “the controversial perk was cut back in 2012 by Chief
Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, but top executives were still receiving
another 22% in pension contributions from public funds on top of their
salaries, including Chief Operating Officer Curt Childs, Chief
Administrative Officer Curt Soderlund and Chief of Staff Jody Patel.
The pension benefit for the top officials caught the attention of the
California State Auditor, who honed in on the perk in a scathing
report released in January after a nearly year-long investigation of
the bureaucracy, formerly known as the Administrative Office of the
Courts. The new director said the benefit would end July 1st.”

Read the CN story
here:http://www.courthousenews.com/2015/02/19/new-director-of-california-court-agency-cuts-perk-for-top-brass.htm of reforms that
included eliminating a lavish pension benefit for the top brass.

The CN adds that “the controversial perk was cut back in 2012 by Chief
Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, but top executives were still receiving
another 22% in pension contributions from public funds on top of their
salaries, including Chief Operating Officer Curt Childs, Chief
Administrative Officer Curt Soderlund and Chief of Staff Jody Patel.
The pension benefit for the top officials caught the attention of the
California State Auditor, who honed in on the perk in a scathing
report released in January after a nearly year-long investigation of
the bureaucracy, formerly known as the Administrative Office of the
Courts. The new director said the benefit would end July 1st.”

Read the CN story
here:http://www.courthousenews.com/2015/02/19/new-director-of-california-court-agency-cuts-perk-for-top-brass.htm

State Courts’ Image On The Upswing

A new poll shows that public perception of state courts is improving on all fronts, but people would really, really prefer to skip a trip to the courthouse and use the Internet when at all possible.

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) commissioned the  2014 State of State Courts Poll, asking 1,000 registered voters last November to weigh in questions ranging from procedural fairness and customer service to judges’ work hours and salaries. Not surprisingly, the group notes that “… the GBA report concludes that public doubts about political influence and bias represent the greatest threat to public confidence in the courts.”

Read more.

Justice Reform Create Odd Political Bedfellows

It seems that fixing the American justice system continues to be one place where America’s most high-profile political enemies can find common ground. The New York Times is reporting http://blogs.reuters.com/alison-frankel/2014/10/23/criminal-defense-lawyers-group-no-reason-to-shun-koch-industries-money/ that the “usually bitter adversaries” of Koch Industries and the Center for American Progress have agreed to work together on a new group, the Coalition for Public Safety. Other participating groups, left and right, include the ACLU, Americans for Tax Reform and Tea-Party leaning FreedomWorks. They’ll start with $5 million.
 
According to the NYT, “organizers of the advocacy campaign… consider it to be the largest national effort focused on the strained prison and justice system. They also view the coalition as a way to show lawmakers in gridlocked Washington that factions with widely divergent views can find ways to work together and arrive at consensus policy solutions.” 
 
This follows a Koch effort with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which Reuters recently noted “… announced a major new grant to fund training for lawyers who represent indigent defendants. That’s no surprise. Providing good lawyers for defendants who can’t afford counsel is a core mission for NACDL. But the source of the funding caused a bit of a stir: Koch Industries, the Kansas-based, privately held manufacturing conglomerate that is the source of the boundless wealth of Charles and David Koch.”
 
Reuters noted that the “senate’s Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, has tagged them [the Kochs] (via Talking Points Memo) “‘un-American’ plutocrats who ‘have no conscience and are willing to lie’ in order to ‘rig the system’ against the middle class.” That report said NACDL’s president told the reporter that  the group only cares that Koch Industries shares its view of the sanctity of the Sixth Amendment and defendants’ right to council.
 
So far, the odd-bedfellow efforts have been all about criminal, not civil, courts. But any improvements are bound to help both sides of that ledger.

Judge Halts Obama’s Immigration Order

When President Obama took executive action on immigration policy, one concern was that legal action would delay or even halt his plans. That’s come to pass, with a federal judge in Texas blocking the action to give a 26-state coalition more time to pursue its lawsuit against the measures. The White House says it will appeal, but such is the danger of congressional inaction – we head to the executive branch and, eventually, the courts.
 
In response to the judge’s order, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it would halt preparations for a program to protect parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents until further notice.
 
Read the Associated Press report here

NYT Publishes Game-Changer On Family Detention

The New York Times Magazine has published what might become a game-changer in the immigration courts crisis. Under the headline “The Shame of America’s Family Detention Camps,” the piece by Wil S. Hylton offers background that “…since the economic collapse of 2008, the number of undocumented immigrants coming from Mexico has plunged, while a surge of violence in Central America has brought a wave of migrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. According to recent statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, the number of refugees fleeing Central America has doubled in the past year alone — with more than 61,000 “family units” crossing the U.S. border, as well as 51,000 unaccompanied children. For the first time, more people are coming to the United States from those countries than from Mexico, and they are coming not just for opportunity but for survival.”
 
He also notes that the Obama administration reversed its policy when the crisis hit, to a “draconian” approach. And the human and public policy misery that followed. It’s a milestone story in the history of U.S. family detention:
  

CM Publisher Has HuffPo Piece On GOP Civil Tort Priorities

Courts Monitor Publisher Sara Corcoran Warner has published a Huffington Post story with her take on recent developments involving the New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. She notes that “… the new Republican-controlled congress rolled up its sleeves and rolled out its agenda over the last week, and along with immigration and budget issues it turns out “asbestos litigation reform” is an apparent priority. The powerful House Judiciary Committee held a formal hearing in Washington in what amounts to a national campaign targeted at bankruptcy transparency – but fueled largely by both a landmark federal case out of North Carolina and the ongoing New York scandal involving the arrest of state assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.”
 

Bicyclist Hit By Truck Wins $34.5 Million In Jury Trial

A Los Angeles bicyclist, who suffered injuries including a lower leg amputation when he was hit by a big-rig truck making a right-hand turn, was awarded $34,555,220 after a personal injury trial.
 
His attorneys said that Alan Casillas, was 19 years old on the morning of Dec. 7, 2012 and was riding his bicycle to a friends’  house. They say that’s when a big rig drove over part of the sidewalk while making a right turn from Tweedy Boulevard to Alameda Street. They said the truck struck Casillas, knocking him from the bike and crushing his left leg, among other injuries.  [Read more...]

One-Day Divorce Heralded As Court Innovation

The Associated Press is profiling a California judge as an innovator for his one-day divorce process, a program inspired in some measure by $1 billion in court budget cuts during the recession. The AP notes that “… layoffs sapped employee morale, 52 courthouses closed across the state and the trying experience of going to court has become more tedious with longer lines, frustrating hearing delays and time-consuming waits on the phone.”
 
“Against that backdrop,” says the AP,”recent innovations seem like baby steps, but they have made it simpler to serve jury duty, pay traffic fines or get a restraining order in some counties. Lawyers in some courts can now schedule hearings online, file motions over the web and get judge’s orders electronically before they leave court.”
 
See a reminder that the California budget cuts are the new normal here.

Thousands Of Immigration Cases Delayed Until At Least 2019

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that “… thousands of immigrants seeking legalization through the U.S. court system have had their hearings canceled and are being told by the government that it may be 2019 or later before their futures are resolved.” The paper says that “… immigration lawyers in cities that absorbed a large share of those cases, including New York, San Antonio, Los Angeles and Denver, say they’ve had hearings canceled with little notice and received no new court dates. Work permits, green cards, asylum claims, and family reunifications hang in the balance.”
 
By way of background, the cancellations began began to skyrocket over the summer as the Justice Department prioritized the tens of thousands of Central American migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, most of them mothers with children and the high-profile arrival of unaccompanied minors.
 
The Dallas newspaper report quotes David Martin, a law professor at the University of Virginia who worked for two Democratic presidents, who “criticized Congress and the Obama administration for not funding more immigration judges.” He also told the paper that “… you fund more investigators, more detention space, more border patrol, almost all of these are going to produce some kind of immigration court case… you are putting a lot more people into the system. It’s just going to be a big bottleneck unless you increase the size of that pipeline.” Read the story here.