ATLANTA (AP) — An immigration judge in Atlanta denied an attorney’s request to delay a hearing that fell during her six-week maternity leave and then scolded her in front of a packed courtroom when she showed up with her 4-week-old strapped to her chest and the infant began to cry, the attorney said.
When Stacy Ehrisman-Mickle took on two young brothers as clients in early September, she immediately filed a request to postpone their next hearing, which was set for a month later, she said. In an order denying her request, Immigration Judge J. Dan Pelletier Sr. wrote, “No good cause. Hearing date set prior to counsel accepting representation.”
Reached by phone Thursday, Pelletier said immigration judges can’t make public comment and referred questions to the public affairs office of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the branch of the Department of Justice that oversees immigration courts. That office said in an email it couldn’t comment on the judge’s action and that a complaint had been filed and was being processed.
Ehrisman-Mickle’s clients came to her in early July for a consultation, but they couldn’t afford to hire her right away, she said. They went to their first immigration court hearing on Sept. 2 without a lawyer and then came to Ehrisman-Mickle’s office with their mother four days later, on a Saturday, to hire her.
Ehrisman-Mickle told them she would take their case but that their next hearing on Oct. 7 fell during her maternity leave. She told them she’d have to file a motion to delay the hearing but that it shouldn’t be a problem because two other immigration judges had already granted similar motions based on letters from her doctor, she said.
She filed the motion Sept. 8 and it was received by the court the following day, she said. Pelletier ruled on the motion Oct. 2 and Ehrisman-Mickle’s office received the decision the following day, the Friday before the Tuesday hearing, she said.
At home in bed, Ehrisman-Mickle was shocked when her secretary called to tell her the motion had been denied. Her truck driver husband was out of state, her 4-week-old daughter was too young for day care and she has no family in the area, she said.
“I was in a state of panic. I didn’t know what to do with my baby,” she told The Associated Press on Thursday.
She called her daughter’s pediatrician to ask if it would be safe to bring the baby with her to court. The doctor told her it would be OK as long as she kept the infant in a carrier on her chest facing her body and didn’t let anyone touch the baby.
During the hearing, her baby began to cry, and Pelletier scolded her for inappropriate behavior and commented that her pediatrician must be appalled that she was exposing the baby to so many germs in court, she said.
“I was embarrassed. I felt humiliated,” she said.
Another lawyer who was present in the courtroom confirmed the details of Ehrisman-Mickle’s story. He asked that his name not be used because he doesn’t want the judge to retaliate against his clients.
Pelletier finally agreed to delay the hearing until after Ehrisman-Mickle is cleared by her doctor to return to work, she said.
Ehrisman-Mickle said she filed a formal complaint against Pelletier the same day as the hearing. An investigating judge called to get her side of the story after the complaint was filed but she hasn’t heard anything further, she said.
Georgia State University College of Law associate professor Tanya Washington said it was reasonable of Ehrisman-Mickle to believe the judge would delay the hearing to accommodate her maternity leave. Furthermore, Ehrisman-Mickle demonstrated a real commitment to her clients by showing up with her baby, Washington said.
“I think the judge yelling at her for being unprofessional by appearing with her child is unreasonable, insensitive and unprofessional,” Washington said.