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Judge in Immigration Case Wants to Take Over All Ethics Training

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

The federal judge who first ruled against President Obama's immigration reforms, a case currently pending in the Supreme Court, has made another bold and far-reaching move in connection to the case. After having found misconduct on the part of the government attorneys in the immigration case, District Judge Andrew S. Hanen of the Southern District of Texas has put himself in charge of their ethics training.

But it's not just those specific attorneys that Hanen wants to ethically reeducate. It's every single DOJ lawyer who appears in court -- in any court, federal or state, in 26 specific states over the next five years. If the order stands, Judge Hanen may soon become a very busy man. But, he's only doing it to help out the Supreme Court, Hanen says.

Do Go Boy Scout On Me

Judge Hanen's unusual opinion and order begins in a particularly unusual way: with an extended quotation from "Bridge of Spies," the Tom Hanks film about an American attorney recruited to spy on the Soviets -- complete with underlining, for emphasis.

FBI Agent Hoffman: Don't go Boy Scout on me. We don't have a rulebook

Attorney James Donovan: You're Agent Hoffman, yeah?

FBI Agent Hoffman: Yeah.

Attorney James Donovan: German extraction?

FBI Agent Hoffman: Yeah, so?

Attorney James Donovan: My name's Donovan, Irish, both sides, mother and father.
I'm Irish, you're German, but what makes us both Americans? Just one thing . . . the rulebook.

We call it the Constitution and we agree to the rules and that's what makes us Americans. It's all that makes us Americans, so don't tell me there's no rulebook . . .

That leads to a discussion of "whether the government's lawyers must play by the rules." (Spoiler alert: they must.)

Judge Hanen admonished the DOJ attorneys for "making statements that clearly did not match the facts." To resolve those misrepresentations, Hanen ordered ethics retraining for any Justice Department attorney practicing in any of the 26 states involved in the lawsuit over the Obama administration's immigration policy. As an added measure, Hanen took away the pro hac vice status of out-of-state DOJ attorneys, while lamenting that he could not disbar them.

Just Trying to Help

To call the order sweeping would be an understatement. But Hanen claims he's just trying to help out. By acting on ethical breaches at this point, Hanen says, he is removing a barrier to an easier Supreme Court resolution of the case.

"Since there is no doubt that misconduct has occurred, and since there is for the first time a possibility that this case will not be remanded," Hanen wrote, "the court will take this opportunity to dispose of the only impediment to the Supreme Court issuing a complete and final judgment in this matter. The misconduct in this case was intentional, serious and material. In fact, it is hard to imagine a more serious, more calculated plan of unethical conduct."

The alternative could have been to strike all government filings, something that would bring the case to an immediate halt. But that move would be as "disrespectful of the Supreme Court as it would deprive that Court of the ability to thrash out the legal issues in this case," Hanen writes.

The DOJ will certainly challenge the order -- perhaps even all the way to the Supreme Court.

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