Former Judge Fined, Disbarred for Promoting Hillary Clinton’s Immigration Reform Plan During Hearing

September 17, 2019 Updated: September 17, 2019

A former immigration judge was disciplined after she was found to have violated the Hatch Act while on the bench when she promoted then-Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s immigration reform plan during a 2016 hearing.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) said in a statement on Sept. 17 that Carmene “Zsa Zsa” DePaolo was presiding over an immigration case of an individual who was facing deportation and a subsequent 10-year bar on re-entry into the United States. At the time, DePaolo was an immigration judge on the Otay Mesa Immigration Court in California.

During that hearing, which was open to the public, DePaolo remarked that the penalty was “a pretty harsh thing” that Clinton had intended to change as long as “the Senate becomes a Democratic body and there’s some hope that they can actually pass immigration legislation,” according to the OSC.

The judge then took a shot at Republicans saying that they “aren’t going to do anything” about immigration “if they can help it,” other than to “try to deport everybody.”

According to the decision, the “respondent’s actions raises the specter that this nation’s courtrooms are partisan, and that judges consider political platforms when advising litigants. The very nature of her offense politicizes the judiciary and the federal workforce and militates toward a more severe sanction.”

“This conduct sends a bad message to subordinates and possibly instils the notion that political activity is allowed at work. If a judge can say it from the bench, what stops other employees from making these statements in the office?” according to the decision.

DePaolo, who was the immigration judge on the Otay Mesa Immigration Court in California, was subsequently fined $1,000—the maximum possible civil penalty—and given a two-and-a-half-year debarment from federal service.

“We are very pleased with the outcome of this case and believe the significant disciplinary action imposed against Judge DePaolo is appropriate and warranted,” Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner said in the statement.

The OSC first filed the complaint against DePaolo back in 2018.

The Hatch Act, a federal law passed in 1939, prohibits a federal employee from engaging in partisan political activity while on duty or in the federal workplace. All federal civilians employees working in the executive branch—excluding the president and vice president—are covered under the Hatch Act. This includes employees of the U.S. Postal Service.

The penalties for violation of the act include removal from federal service, reduction in grade, debarment from federal employment for a period not to exceed 5 years, suspension, reprimand, or a civil penalty not to exceed $1,000.

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