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Mexican national wins a new chance to fight deportation

December 07, 2007|Henry Weinstein | Times Staff Writer

A federal appeals court in San Francisco on Thursday excoriated a federal immigration judge and a Los Angeles lawyer for their conduct during a deportation hearing in 2003.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals accused Judge Thomas Y.K. Fong in Los Angeles of "badgering" Jorge Mario Mendoza Mazariegos during the hearing and said that the judge had, in effect, forced the Mexican national to proceed without a lawyer after his attorney, Steven S. Paek, "deserted" him.

The three-judge panel, led by Harry Pregerson, ruled unanimously that Mendoza should be given another chance to fight removal. Mendoza contends deportation would lead to "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" for his three U.S.-born sons. The panel also called Mendoza a victim of so-called notarios, unlicensed legal aides who "prey on uneducated immigrants."

According to the opinion, Paek had an improper off-the-record conversation with Fong before the hearing, telling the judge he had been unable to reach Mendoza and did not expect his client to show up for the hearing.

In fact, Mendoza did appear and told Fong he had been unable to reach Paek. He also said that a notario service working with Paek would not let him see the lawyer. Fearing that Paek would be a no-show, Mendoza had hired another attorney, Nana Boachie-Yiadom.

At a break in the hearing, Mendoza saw Paek, who insisted that his client confirm the lawyer's story to Fong, even though it was not true. "I told him . . . 'You are crazy, sir; I am the one who has been calling you to remind you about this hearing,' " Mendoza said in a sworn declaration.

"The lawyer said, 'If you don't swear to those things, then I am not coming into the court with you.' I said, 'Sir, you are asking me to lie before the court, aren't you?' " Mendoza added in the declaration.

Fong refused to grant Mendoza's new lawyer a delay so she could familiarize herself with the case.

"Despite the fact that Mendoza was unfamiliar with both the language and the legal system," the immigration judge "showed no patience for Mendoza's attempts to explain why he had good cause" for a continuance, "immediately cutting off Mendoza each time he tried to talk," Pregerson said in the opinion.

Pregerson said it appeared Fong's real concern was that the court was so booked up, a short delay would mean a two-year postponement of the hearing.

Fong did not return a call seeking comment.

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