Wash. Supreme Court: Legal status can't be used in civil cases

Wash. Supreme Court: Legal status can't be used in civil cases
SEATTLE (AP) - A person's legal status in the country can't be used in civil cases by attorneys to intimidate or coerce under a new rule approved by the Washington Supreme Court last week.

Since 2007, advocates have been working to make the change to the Rules of Professional conduct that attorneys licensed in the state must adhere to following. The lobbying began after members of the Latino/a Bar Association of Washington had seen attorneys and, in some cases, judges discuss a person's legal status in the country openly in court to intimidate.

"We thought it was unethical to do," said Lorena Gonzalez, who was president of the attorney association at the time. "We looked at the rules there was silence on the issue."

The rule does not affect criminal cases, but does cover civil matters, such as family disputes, personal injury claims, workplace cases, medical malpractice and other fields.

"Issues involving immigration status carry a significant danger of interfering with the proper functioning of the justice system," the change to the rules states. "When a lawyer is representing a client in a civil matter, a lawyer's communication to a party or a witness that the lawyer will report that person to immigration authorities, or a lawyer's report of that person to immigration authorities, furthers no substantial purpose of the civil adjudicative system if the lawyer's purpose is to intimidate, coerce, or obstruct that person."

For Gonzalez, the rule change means that immigrants will be able to pursue legal claims without fear. She says attorneys were attempting to stop "meritorious" claims against their clients by threatening to call federal authorities.

"From a broader sense, my hope is that this will provide a greater and a safer degree of access to our court system for immigrants who have real legal claims," Gonzalez said.

The rule change will go into effect on September 1.