Jeff Pearson came out of retirement to take a pro bono asylum case after a close friend told him about RMIAN’s work, and what a critical difference legal representation could make to an asylum seeker’s chances of success.
Jeff’s client is originally from an East African nation, where he’d been imprisoned, beaten and tortured by government security forces because he belonged to a tribe that was identified with the leadership of the armed opposition movement. The client had nothing to do with the armed opposition. In his country of origin, however, tribe is often destiny, and nothing the client said could convince his persecutors that he wasn’t a threat.
RMIAN got Jeff started on the case with a roadmap of the facts and legal issues, and an overview of local immigration court procedure. Jeff quickly realized that he needed specialists in order to effectively represent his client’s case. He assembled a team including an interpreter to communicate with his client, a country expert to substantiate his client’s fear of persecution, a forensic medical expert, and a witness in Australia whose testimony was key to a legal issue in the case. While those specialized services were either pro bono or subsidized by various sources of funding, the coordination logistics were complex.
The case consumed Jeff for three and a half months. Nothing seemed easy. For five weeks Jeff and his interpreter were barred from seeing the client because of a mumps/chickenpox quarantine at the ICE immigration detention facility in Aurora. Even without quarantine-related restrictions, wait times at the facility were unpredictable and frustratingly long. Asylum law, which was new to Jeff, struck him as a minefield of technicalities that could defeat even meritorious claims.
While Jeff’s own days were something of a mental roller coaster, he says that his client, for all he had suffered, and despite a longer detention in America than any of his detentions in his country of origin, remained a steadfast model of grace, courage, and composure. The client never failed to greet Jeff with a disarming smile and a warm handshake. The client never complained as he repeated the details of his painful story with Jeff and the experts.
At trial, the judge granted asylum. Two days later, Jeff saw the client for the first time outside of detention—in the sunlight and open air. The client’s smile was more radiant than ever. Jeff says he himself had never been happier about the outcome of a case, or, despite the anxiety along the way, more fulfilled by having done one.
Jeff wants to encourage other retired attorneys to volunteer, and notes that Colorado Supreme Court Rule 204.6 allows them, even if their status is inactive, to take pro bono cases for RMIAN. Furthermore, if they do so, they can be covered under RMIAN’s professional liability insurance. “It’s important work,” Jeff says, “and there are many deserving clients who need your representation now.”