Another California Courthouse Arrest, More Phony Outrage

By Dan Cadman on August 30, 2018

Law360 (partially behind a paywall) is reporting on the case of a California state judge who expressed frustration and "regret" after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents took a deportable (and previously deported) alien into custody at the completion of proceedings being held in his court. According to the article, the judge "vow[ed] to avert a repeat."

Law360 quotes the chief justice of California's Supreme Court this way in referring to the incident:

In her own statement following the arrest, Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye of the state Supreme Court said her position "has not changed" since her request last year for federal immigration officials to treat courthouses as "sensitive areas" along with schools and hospitals.

"Continuing to make immigration arrests at state courts and especially in our courtrooms is disruptive, shortsighted and counterproductive," Judge Cantil-Sakauye said. "It is damaging to community safety and disrespects the state court system."

There are several interesting aspects to the case. First, it's worth noting that the alien was present in court to plead not guilty to felony drug possession and sale. This was not a victim or witness, despite the claim of the judge that ICE agents appearing in the courthouse might "scare off potential witnesses and frustrate prosecutions," as the article tells us.

Second, it's also worth observing that the reason ICE agents have had to resort to effecting arrests in state courthouses is because California state law, as well as various local jurisdictions, obstructs police and sheriff's departments' ability to cooperate with ICE. If these outrageous sanctuary policies were not in place, logic would dictate that a handover of the individual would occur in the confines of a secure location such as the county jail.

Unlike jails, courthouses are public places and there is no reasonable way to block ICE agents from showing up to do what they must, unless the judges were to then implement similar restrictions on all federal, state, or local law enforcement — and that's beyond improbable. Even so, the controversy about such arrests has been swirling for months now, and is unlikely to abate (see here and here).

Of course, there is also implicit in all of this the irony that courthouses are supposed to be bastions of the law. How is it, then, that state judges — including, apparently, the California chief justice — think that they get to pick and choose which laws deserve enforcement and compliance within their buildings?

Next, it's worth noting that the alien, who was in court on narcotics trafficking charges, was arrested by ICE pursuant to a warrant for reentry after removal, according to the article. Reentry after removal is itself a felony (see 8 U.S.C. Section 1326). In other words, the arresting agent was in possession of a federal criminal warrant and had every right (and indeed obligation) to execute that warrant as soon as practicable.

Although the information isn't available from the story, it's also quite possible, perhaps even probable, that the alien's prior deportation also was based on criminal convictions — in which case he would be a recidivist released back into the community under the foolish and myopic state and county sanctuary laws if these agents hadn't acted to preempt that happening.

Finally, it's worth addressing comments made by the alien's defense attorney, Charles Pacheco, as told by Law360:

Pacheco said he believed the judge had not known anything about the pending arrest before it took place.

"I asked him, 'Do you intend to let this kind of thing happen so I can know what to advise my clients?'" Pacheco said, describing Judge Brown as "befuddled" but compliant.

"I have to give clients options, and this is unheard of, for deputies and a judge to be helping ICE like this and them coming into a court like they own the whole damn thing," he said.

No, Mr. Pacheco, they don't "own the whole damn thing", but they have the same right that you do to be in the building and, like you, were discharging their responsibilities under the law. And as to "giv[ing] clients options", exactly what does that mean? Will you encourage them to flee if you are told they're subject to federal felony warrants that may be executed if they show up in state court to answer other criminal charges?

If you do, it seems to me that you will be violating the bar's canon of ethics, as well as engaging in criminal conduct yourself. Take a look at 18 U.S.C. Section 3, Accessory after the fact:

Whoever, knowing that an offense against the United States has been committed, receives, relieves, comforts or assists the offender in order to hinder or prevent his apprehension, trial or punishment, is an accessory after the fact.

Maybe, Mr. Pacheco, a refresher course in basic criminal law and legal ethics is in order. What neither you nor your client deserved was any expression whatever of "regret" from the judge.