Judge Mourns Fee Denial for Immigration Lawyer

     (CN) – A lawyer who put a pair of Armenians on the path to asylum cannot recover fees from the U.S. government, the 9th Circuit ruled Thursday, with a note of regret from one judge.
     “I concur because the statute is clear. I regret the result,” Judge John Noonan wrote in a brief concurring opinion. “An able and experienced lawyer who devoted substantial time to aid persons threatened with deportation is denied remuneration for her services. At the very least, we should be able to postpone a decision on the fees until the conclusion of the case. The EAJA (Equal Access to Justice Act) does not work well when it compels a court to cut off compensation of careful and effective advocacy.”
     Gittel Gordon had represented Kristine and Martik Sargsyan before the 9th Circuit in 2012, persuading a three-judge panel to revive their petition for asylum.
     She said she will file a motion to reconsider Thursday’s fee-denial decision.
     “I believe the court ruling is unfair and not supported by the case law,” Gordon said in an email.
     The Sargsyans are natives and citizens of Armenia, where they allegedly faced persecution because of their adherence to the Baha’i faith.
     Their parents have already been granted asylum in the United States, but an immigration judge denied it to them after deeming their petition untimely filed and not totally credible.
     Though a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit affirmed the timeliness finding, the court said that the immigration judge (IJ) and Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) had made too much of the supposed inconsistencies.
     “Substantial evidence does not support the IJ’s adverse credibility finding,” the unsigned December 2012 decision stated. “The IJ pointed to inconsistencies in the number of people who caused the injuries petitioners claim to have suffered; the group affiliations of the attackers; what weapons were used; and on how many areas of the body they were beaten. These inconsistencies do not go to the heart of the petitioners’ persecution claims. We are particularly wary of an adverse credibility determination based on such minor inconsistencies given that the petitioners’ parents were previously granted asylum based on the same underlying events. We conclude in this regard that the IJ lacked substantial evidence to support the adverse credibility finding.”
     Judge Jay Bybee wrote separately in that decision to emphasize his “concern with the BIA’s failure to reconcile its decision with the fact that the petitioners’ parents were previously granted asylum based on the same underlying events.”
     A few months after the decision came down, Glendale, Calif.-based attorney Artem Sarian replaced Gordon as attorney for the Sargsyans.

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