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CA9 (2-1) on Right to Counsel: Usubakunov v. Garland

November 01, 2021 (1 min read)

Usubakunov v. Garland

"This is not a case of a petitioner abusing the system or requesting serial delays of his merits hearing—Usubakunov had found an attorney willing to take his case. Although it may be tempting to look for a bright-line rule, we hew to our precedent that the “inquiry is fact-specific and thus varies from case to case.” Biwot, 403 F.3d at 1099. In doing so, we do not suggest that there is “no limit,” Dissent at 19, to the permissible delay for obtaining a lawyer. Our factspecific inquiry here leads us to conclude that the IJ’s refusal to grant a continuance violated Usubakunov’s right to counsel. ... This case illustrates diligence, not bad faith, coupled with very difficult barriers faced by a detained applicant who does not speak English. Usubakunov sought and identified counsel within the period the IJ originally thought reasonable, but he was stymied by counsel’s scheduling conflict. He had identified by name and organization the lawyer who would ultimately represent him, and Usubakunov thus sought his first continuance of the merits hearing. We conclude that “[u]nder these circumstances, denial of a continuance was an abuse of discretion because it was tantamount to denial of counsel.” Biwot, 403 F.3d at 1100. Given these unique circumstances, our grant of the petition will not open the floodgates of continuances, as we apply the same fact-based inquiry we have done for years. That concludes our inquiry, as a petitioner who is wrongly denied assistance of counsel at his merits hearing need not show prejudice. See Gomez-Velazco, 879 F.3d at 993 (citing Montes-Lopez v. Holder, 694 F.3d 1085, 1090 (9th Cir. 2012)). In light of the need to remand for a new hearing, we do not address Usubakunov’s other challenges. We grant Usubakunov’s petition for review and remand for further proceedings. PETITION GRANTED and REMANDED."

[Hats off to Bardis Vakili (argued), ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties, San Diego, Kristin MacLeod-Ball, American Immigration Council, Brookline, Massachusetts; Mary Kenney, American Immigration Council, Washington, D.C.; for Amicus Curiae American Immigration Council; and Laura J. Edelstein, Jenner & Block LLP, San Francisco, California, for Amicus Curiae Women’s Refugee Commission!]