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Meltdown at DOJ: The Story of the Immigration Judge Scam


One of the mysteries surrounding the testimony last week of Monica Goodling has now been resolved, thanks to the reporting of the Legal Times. Emma Schwartz and Jason McLure take a look at some litigation launched by a disappointed career immigration lawyer who was passed over for an immigration judgeship, and uncover how the Civil Division came to look at the process of political appointments and reassess the posture erroneously adopted by Attorney General John Ashcroft at the end of his tenure, and then continued by Alberto Gonzales.

The authority used to bypass the competitive hiring process would be employed again and again during the last year of Attorney General John Ashcroft’s tenure and continue when Alberto Gonzales succeeded him in 2005. And according to the immigration court’s former administrator, it also allowed top political aides at Justice, including former Gonzales chief of staff D. Kyle Sampson and former White House liaison Monica Goodling, to fast-track candidates of their choosing — including a number of lawyers with no immigration law experience but strong ties to the Republican Party or President George W. Bush’s election campaigns.

During her day-long testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last week, Goodling, under a grant of immunity, admitted that she asked inappropriate questions of many applicants for career jobs at the department and evaluated candidates based on her perception of their political loyalties. “I believe I crossed the line, but I didn’t mean to,” she testified.

Though allegations that Goodling had politicized the hiring of federal criminal prosecutors were known by the time she testified, her admission that she had taken political considerations into account in the hiring of immigration judges — who are considered civil-service employees — was not. Nor was it well-known that a discrimination suit filed by Guadalupe Gonzalez led to internal debate within the Justice Department over the appointment process and to a hiring freeze of immigration judges that began in December — a freeze that wasn’t lifted until last month. Justice’s immigration judge selection process is currently being probed by the department’s inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility for potential violations of federal civil service laws.

Legal Times also looks at some of the candidates picked by Alberto Gonzales through this process. They have few obvious qualifications which would prepare them for the job, but they are very long on dedicated service to the Republican Party. A good example was Francis Cramer:

Cramer became something of a fixture in the state’s Republican politics and a close ally of the younger Gregg. In 1992, he served as Gregg’s campaign treasurer in his successful run for the Senate, and he later helped the senator beat back a probe of his campaign finances by the Federal Election Commission… But the hiring didn’t escape scrutiny. Last year, Cramer was singled out in a report by the Government Accountability Office. The report, on the subject of political appointees “burrowing in” to government civil service jobs, noted that the position of immigration judge required “a thorough knowledge of immigration and nationality laws, both past and present, and the regulations and rules of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.” The report noted that Cramer’s résumé listed no immigration law experience other than the six-month detail, and found that Cramer’s move “raises questions about the fairness” of the hiring process…

Since Cramer’s investiture as a judge in 2004, roughly three dozen immigration judges have been hired. They include: James Nugent, a former vice chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party; Garry Malphrus, a former White House aide and veteran of Bush’s 2000 campaign; Chris Brisack, a county Republican Party chairman in Texas during Bush’s tenure as governor; and Bruce Taylor, a former Justice Department lawyer who had been president and chief counsel of the right-leaning National Law Center for Children and Families and general counsel to Citizens for Decency Through Law, an anti-pornography group.

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