Yesterday, the New York Times had an interesting piece about the role that non-lawyers play in New York immigration courts. Father Robert Vitaglione, a non-lawyer, represented people in immigration cases. The Times reports that:
For more than three decades, Robert Vitaglione never turned down a client, representing thousands of immigrants in New York’s overburdened federal immigration courts. But he is not a lawyer. He is a Roman Catholic priest without formal legal training or supervision — and it showed.
Disheveled and disorganized, Father Vitaglione sometimes jeopardized cases with his erratic behavior, according to a federal finding. His legal briefs included a blizzard of fonts and asides — “Deportation = Death” was written in bold in one.
Court administrators barred Father Vitaglione from handling cases, even though the majority of his clients were unable to afford an attorney and pro bono attorneys were overwhelmed with cases. As Father Vitaglione said:
“We have more lawyers than we have fire hydrants in this city and no one will help.”
But attorneys at the Legal Aid Society said that Father Vitaglione’s representation masked a real problem with immigration courts in New York: “He was allowing the court system to operate as if people were being represented when they really were not,” said Amy Meselson, an immigration lawyer with the Legal Aid Society.
The article raises a number of question but few answers. Should non-lawyers be allowed to represent clients in immigration cases? How will the courts handle the influx of unrepresented immigrants? What is the best way to ensure justice in the courts?