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Did Sotomayor Provide Assistance to Law Firm Preparing Case Against the U.S. Government in 2007?

Morgen on June 5, 2009 at 7:16 am

In reviewing the Questionnaire provided by Judge Sotomayor yesterday to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and through some additional research, I discovered some interesting facts which may suggest a possible connection between Sotomayor and a class-action, immigration-related lawsuit filed by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund against the U.S. Government in 2007. A connection which would at least create the appearance of impropriety given her role as an Officer of the Court.  Now I want to say at the outset, and I cannot emphasize this enough, that these facts are only suggestive of a possible connection, and are circumstantial at best. But I believe they are significant and relevant enough to warrant publication and perhaps further investigation on the part of others in the media.

Here are the facts. On the top of page 80 of the Questionnaire, Judge Sotomayor indicated that she participated in an event on July 10, 2007 at the Law Firm of LeBoeuf, Lamb, & Greene, LLP in New York. According to the questionnaire, the nature of her participation was as follows:

I spoke to the firm’s summer associates regarding professional issues. I have not found a draft of prepared remarks and have no knowledge if a video of this event exists.

A couple of quick points on this. One, there are numerous other cases where Sotomayor was not able to provide a draft of any written remarks, as would be expected given that we are talking about a 15+ year timeframe and the sheer number of events at which she participated over the years. However, it’s notable that out of dozens of recorded events there is only one other similar event where she spoke informally at another individual law firm (back in Aug. 1998).

Now it just so happens, that summer of 2007, the Law Firm of LeBoeuf, Lamb, & Greene in New York was preparing a large class-action suit against the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Division of the U.S. Government. A case challenging the Constitutionality of coordinated immigration raids within the Latino community which had been carried out by ICE enforcement officers over the preceding year.  

And as it also turns out, LeBoeuf was not working alone on this case. The Plaintiffs had another entity co-representing them in this class-action suit against the government – the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund (PRLDEF). From the joint Press Release in 2007:

NEW YORK, NY – September 20, 2007 – Several Latino families and individuals filed a class action suit today against the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security charging that its agents unlawfully break into and enter the homes of Latinos in the New York area without judicially issued warrants or other legal justification. The complaint describes armed ICE agents breaking down doors or forcing their way into Latino households in the pre-dawn hours and awakening and terrifying children and adults alike, often looking for individuals who do not even reside in the home.

The Plaintiffs, all Latinos whose homes have been raided this year, are represented by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF) and the international law firm of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae LLP.

The case is known as Aguilar v. ICE and a full copy of the original complaint is available here if you are interested. According to news reports at the time, LeBoeuf had numerous attorneys and associates working on this case, accounting for 3600 hours of pro-bono time in 2007 alone. And given that this was a pro-bono case, and the timing involved, one can easily imagine that “summer associates” would have been utilized as much as possible for research and background preparation.

Now, Sonia Sotomayor of course served directly on the Board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, and in other executive capacities, for 12 years from 1980-1992. And the facts suggest that she has continued to maintain ties with the organization since. According to her Questionnaire, she attended PRLDEF events in Nov. 2000 and also in Nov. 2004. Perhaps more significantly, the founder and still-President of the PRLDEF, a man named Cesar Perales, was interviewed on PBS on the Tavis Smiley show just this past Monday, and spoke very confidently in defense of Judge Sotomayor’s candidacy. In fact, he spoke like a man who has a pretty close relationship with her.

Ok, I stated at the outset that the facts are only suggestive of a possible connection between Judge Sotomayor, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, and this particular lawsuit against ICE. Perhaps Judge Sotomayor had some other connection to LeBoeuf, and her speaking engagement early that summer of 2007 to discuss “professional issues” was entirely coincidental. It’s very possible this is the case. However, there is one more important connection worth mentioning.

It turns out that a Partner at the Law Firm of LeBoeuf, Lamb, & Greene (now Dewey and LeBoeuf) is also a Board Member of the PRLDEF. His name is John Quiñones, and not only was he on the PRLDEF Board in 2007, he accepted an award from the PRLDEF in 2008 – the “Latino Justice Pro Bono Publico” award – on behalf of LeBoeuf, in recognition of the the firm’s involvement with this case.

So which seems more likely. That Judge Sotomayor had some other connection with LeBoeuf and it was only coincidental that LeBoeuf was partnering with the PRLDEF at the time, or that she was introduced to LeBoeuf through her long-standing connections to the PRLDEF? While not entirely conclusive, the facts certainly suggest the latter scenario. And if she was introduced by the PRLDEF, isn’t it likely that it was in the context of this case given the timing?

Of course the key question is this. Did she provide any legal advice, guidance, or other support regarding the lawsuit against ICE? Or were these “professional issues” on some other completely unrelated – and uncontroversial – topic? While I believe the former is very plausible given her connection to the PRLDEF and her apparent affinity for these issues, there is of course no way to know without a more direct investigation into the circumstances and people involved with this at the time. This is a job better suited for others in the media.

But what I am pretty certain of is this. If in fact Judge Sotomayor did provide any legal guidance or other assistance to the “summer associates” or anyone else related to this case, it would have been a violation of the ethical code of conduct in place for federal judges. At a minimum, without any more information, there does seem to be at least an “appearance of impropriety” which is one of the prohibitions defined in the code. This was a case against the U.S. Government after all, and was filed within her jurisdiction. I can honestly say that I hope there is nothing more to this than a coincidence of fact and circumstance – but I believe it may warrant further investigation.

Footnote: Apparently the discovery process is still underway in Aguilar v. ICE and is scheduled to be completed by the end of this month. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division has denied any wrongdoing in this case.

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