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The right to justice transcends immigration status

Sheri B. Hoidra

Sheri B. Hoidra

I thought it was common knowledge that an undocumented victim in Maryland has the right to file suit for a tort claim.  That’s why it came as a surprise to me when Mike Winkelman, a fellow Maryland Association for Justice member, called me to discuss a rather objectionable defense that he became privy to in a personal injury trial. He wanted my take on it, since I’m the chair of MAJ’s Immigration Section.

Apparently, the defense counsel at a motor tort trial (not Mike’s case) made a motion to dismiss arguing that the plaintiffs had no standing to file suit because they were undocumented. Instead of immediately denying the motion, the judge reset the case to discuss the issue on another date. The law appeared settled on the matter, but there was a short window of opportunity to make MAJ’s position known to the court, and Mike was not going to let that opportunity slip away.

As both a personal injury and immigration attorney, I was particularly enraged by the thought the defense would go so low. Part of me believed we were past this as a nation, but then reality set in – this anti-immigrant rhetoric has overrun every facet of our lives, and the defense was simply taking advantage of it.

Getting that call from Mike was very reassuring, though. It was too much for him to bear that an individual present in the U.S. would have zero right to due process based on immigration status alone, so he went to work on an amicus brief to be filed with the court on behalf of MAJ’s Amicus Committee.

This inspired me because I know that Mike is a very busy attorney, but he took the time to do this and expected nothing in return. I myself was knee-deep in trial prep and did not have the ability to write anything substantial, but I sent Mike all the resources I had. Another MAJ colleague, Patrick Thronson, contributed as well and helped to edit. Patrick similarly has a soft spot for humanitarian issues and did an outstanding job with his contributions.

Despite a tight deadline, we managed to file a brief, ripe with case law, statutory cites, and all the bells and whistles. And when the case was recalled, defense counsel withdrew the issue of immigration! The judge awarded the plaintiff $29,800, or $200 less than the jurisdictional limit. Justice was served, and my faith in humanity was restored.

So despite all the trauma that 2017 brought, I look to 2018 with hope. I am confident that people are becoming so enraged they will take the time to throw their hat in the ring to help bring about change. That’s why, for 2018, my new year’s resolution is to do much more to protect access to justice for those who are disenfranchised. I hope that you join me.