Trials and Immigrations

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Page said she wanted Wiessenberger's clients questioned to see whether the delay in documents was their fault or their attorney's.

"That puts me in a terrible position," Wiessenberger argued. "If Ms. Page's intention here is just to cast a shadow of doubt on what is the guilty party..."

But the judge cut him off and addressed his clients: "I'm convening this matter over one more time, and this is it. So if you people don't have your act together next time, I don't care. We're going to hearing."

Marinoff says that late documents are a reality -- INS attorneys file them late, too, he says -- but Page is the only attorney who complains. He says that the exhibits she complained about would have taken only a few minutes to read through and that other attorneys in the office don't mind getting them the day of a hearing. And, he says, the numerous continuances aren't a matter of incompetence or a lack of preparation. "Sometimes it's in the client's best interest to delay the case if you have reasonable grounds.

"I can't be doing bad things," he insists, adding that rival lawyers who criticize him are jealous. "The 200 cases that guy had when I took over his practice were the envy of the immigration community. What did they think? The 200 clients just die?

"There are probably some immigration attorneys that probably would say to you, 'He's a bad guy,'" he continues. "These folks wouldn't have the guts to try a cancellation of removal. Ninety-nine percent wouldn't do something like that. They don't have the skills."

Marinoff says that's because immigration attorneys mainly are used to doing administrative law, such as dealing with documents and paperwork and securing green cards for professionals immigrating to the United States -- not preventing uneducated working-class illegals from being deported. Unlike him, a former prosecutor, they're not comfortable in court.

He says he refuses seven out of every ten cancellation cases that pass his desk because he doesn't think he can win them. But Marinoff may also be the only immigration attorney in town who regularly surrenders his clients to the INS. Usually, when illegal immigrants are arrested, deportation proceedings begin; if an immigrant is lucky enough to get a lawyer, the lawyer may file a cancellation of removal as a defensive, last-ditch effort. With Marinoff, clients willingly turn themselves in. If Marinoff is lucky, his critics say, his clients can get a voluntary departure. "He can get them a work permit," says Lichter. "He can buy them literally two to three years, on average, for the appeal to run its course. I don't think he's being fully clear with people. People are suckered into this. A lot of people would be better laying low."

Even Jim Salvator won't turn in his clients to the INS. "I think it's too risky," he says. Yet Salvator doesn't criticize Marinoff for taking that risk. "As long as they know the risk is there, I can't say he's done anything ethically wrong."

Marinoff says it's not possible for his clients to enter into deportation proceedings without their knowledge, that the forms they sign are very clear. "At that moment, they know they're in proceedings."

Not everyone agrees. Eleni Sarris, executive director of the Denver-based Justice Information Center, an organization that provides translators for immigrants in court proceedings, says one former Marinoff client she encountered "was unaware he was in deportation proceedings. People would come in and seem somewhat oblivious to their predicament."

And on top of that, there's the matter of money. "He charges a lot. That's his Achilles' heel," says Salvator.

"I don't know what other people charge," Marinoff says. "I'm definitely not cheap." But he says he does more for clients than other lawyers. For instance, when clients with minor crimes on their records (like a DUI charge) come before him as "aggravated felons" under IIRIRA, Marinoff often will try to file a motion with the jurisdiction where the guilty plea was made to have it overturned. "I'm not ashamed of what I charge," he says. "I have a right to charge what I charge. People don't have to hire me. Isn't it analogous to a doctor who's a specialist?"

Joe Sosa is one of Marinoff's satisfied customers. Sosa and his wife had been in the United States illegally for more than a dozen years; they had lived in California and moved to Colorado in 1991 when Sosa's company relocated. In 1996, Sosa's son was born with a serious heart condition that required medicine and physician care not readily found in Sosa's native Guatemala. A year later, he acted. "We wanted to do things right," says Sosa. "We were going to find a way to get our legal documents here in order."

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T.R. Witcher