Judge Hanen Blasts DOJ, Orders Ethics Class for Attorneys

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on May 26, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Texas judge issued a very scathing and very public finger wagging at the Department of Justice lawyers who argued the DOJ's case before him concerning President Obama's amnesty program. In fact, a few were ordered by the judge to learn their place and to take ethics courses.

Considering the effort and length of his extraordinary order, we have to mention how interesting it is that Judge Andrew W. Hanen takes "neither joy nor finds satisfaction" with his actions.

A Lecture in Principle

Hanen's 28-page opinion gives the Justice Department and the lawyers it sent to argue before him the third degree for violating numerous ethics rules and for intentionally lying to the court -- at least in his view. At the very minimum, Hanen concludes in his report that the DOJ "admitted making statements that clearly did not match the facts," and explained away these discrepancies by offering the limp explanation of its lawyers "lo[sing] focus" or that the "fact[s] receded in memory or awareness."

These slip-ups caused said attorneys to misdirect the court into misunderstanding the facts -- specifically, that Obama's amnesty program was under the press of three year deferrals and that it was not currently being implemented when in fact it was actually being applied to at least 100,000 aliens.

Dodging a Bullet

In true watchdog style, the judge listed out specific instances where DOJ lawyers arguing before him made statements that contravened statements that were made via conference call -- and suggested that every ethics rule had been violated. These violations were so basic in fact that Hanen probably did take some satisfaction in sending these lawyers off to the attorney equivalent of traffic school.

But it could have turned out much worse for the offending counsel. The court "does not have the power to disbar the counsel in this case, but it does have the power to revoke the pro hac vice status of out-of-state lawyers who act unethically in court." Hanen issued a sealed order barring the sanctioned attorneys from ever stepping inside his courtroom again. Commentators have noted that if Hanen had the power to disbar those attorneys, he would have.

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