Lim Ruger provided pro-bono representation to the National Association of Immigration Judges as amicus curiae in recently resolved federal court litigation involving the blanket recusal of a U.S. Immigration Judge based solely on her ethnicity. In 2014 the U.S. DOJ, which employs immigration judges, issued a blanket recusal order preventing Immigration Judge Afsaneh Tabaddor from hearing any cases involving “Iranian nationals.” Judge Tabaddor, who is also an adjunct professor at the U.C.L.A. School of Law, is ethnically Iranian. She has engaged in many off-the-bench community service and outreach efforts, including some involving the Iranian-American community. After Judge Tabaddor was invited to and attended a White House roundtable on Iranian-American affairs, the DOJ division that supervises immigration judges issued its blanket recusal order. When Judge Tabaddor sued the DOJ in district court, Lim Ruger’s client NAIJ, of which all immigration judges are a member, took a strong supportive stand in the litigation, arguing in its amicus brief that the DOJ action threatened the independence of the court and the rights of all immigration judges. The NAIJ argued that without a finding of bias or impartiality in fact the recusal order could have a chilling effect on free association and community engagement by judges.
In the settlement of the litigation announced today, the DOJ acknowledged that there was no finding of bias, impartiality or misconduct on the part of Judge Tabaddor, agreed to lift the blanket recusal order, to pay Judge Tabaddor damages and attorney fees, and to re-evaluate its entire process for ordering recusal of immigration judges.
The Lim Ruger team included Sandy Sakamoto, Bryan Sheldon and Mark Hansen.
The case is Tabaddor v. Holder et al., case number 2:14cv06309,
in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.