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Md. attorney suspended for mishandling immigrant clients’ asylum claims

Madeleine O'Neill//March 2, 2023

Md. attorney suspended for mishandling immigrant clients’ asylum claims

By Madeleine O'Neill

//March 2, 2023

An immigration lawyer whose mishandling of two asylum cases led to negative outcomes for both clients has been suspended from practicing law in Maryland for 90 days.

The Maryland Supreme Court found that the attorney, Kevin M. Tabe, failed to competently represent his clients. In one case, he lost the client’s only form of photographic identification, which contributed to a judge’s denial of the client’s asylum application.

But the Supreme Court concluded that a 90-day suspension was appropriate instead of a more severe sanction because Tabe’s errors did not involve intentional dishonesty. Justice Shirley M. Watts authored the 38-page opinion.

The first client, a Cameroonian citizen who entered the United States to seek asylum in March 2019, was detained at an immigration detention center in Louisiana and placed in removal proceedings. His aunt retained Tabe to represent him.

Tabe charged a flat fee of $4,000, which he did not place in an attorney trust account, according to the opinion.

Soon after Tabe was retained, he failed to appear at an initial court hearing for his client. At the rescheduled hearing, Tabe provided his client a blank asylum application form but did not properly explain the process or review the application before it was filed, according to findings made by Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Stacy W. McCormack, who heard Tabe’s attorney disciplinary proceeding.

When Tabe filed the application, it contained numerous errors that he did not correct promptly, even after his client pointed out the problems, according to the opinion.

Tabe also received his client’s original Cameroonian National Identification Card from the client’s aunt and then lost it, according to the opinion. It was the client’s only form of photo ID.

Tabe met with his client only once before his individual court hearing and failed to properly explain the process or prepare his client, the hearing judge found.

At the individual hearing in August 2019, Tabe told the immigration judge that he had misplaced his client’s photo ID. The judge pointed to the client’s lack of ID as one reason that he was not credible, denied the man’s asylum application and ordered him removed from the U.S., according to the opinion.

(On appeal, the Board of Immigration Appeals found the credibility determination was irrelevant because Tabe’s client did not meet the standard for an asylum claim, according to the opinion.)

The second client, also a citizen of Cameroon, entered the U.S. to seek asylum in November 2018 and was detained in Georgia pending removal proceedings.

Tabe charged the man $3,000, which he did not place in an attorney trust account, according to the opinion. Tabe filed papers in support of the man’s asylum application and filed a motion to change the venue of his immigration proceedings to Boston after the man was released on parole and relocated there to be with his family.

The immigration court denied the motion, however, and notified Tabe via email. Tabe did not read the email or tell his client about the denial, according to the opinion, leading both him and his client to miss a court hearing in July 2019.

As a result, the client’s asylum application was deemed abandoned and the man was ordered removed from the U.S., according to the opinion. The immigration court also denied a request from Tabe to reopen the case, in part because Tabe failed to include a required affidavit.

Tabe was admitted to the Maryland bar in 2009 and also maintained a law office in Dallas, Texas, while he was practicing immigration law. He was previously reprimanded for similar conduct that occurred between August 2016 and April 2017, according to the opinion.

Tabe’s actions in the two immigration cases violated the Maryland Attorneys’ Rules of Professional Conduct and the Federal Immigration Rules of Professional Conduct for Practitioners, the court found.

Maryland Bar Counsel recommended an indefinite suspension against Tabe, while Tabe suggested another reprimand or probation. The court decided on a 90-day suspension with an attorney monitor for one year when he begins practicing law again.

The court also distinguished Tabe from other lawyers who have committed similar offenses but received stiffer penalties. Tabe did do some work for his clients, but undercut that work with mistakes, Watts wrote. Tabe also cooperated with the attorney discipline process.

“We see a distinction between a lawyer who does essentially no work on behalf of a client and either ignores the client’s requests for updates on a matter or misrepresents that he has done the work …, and one who performs work requested by the client but undermines it with serious errors,” Watts wrote.

Bar Counsel Lydia E. Lawless declined to comment. Tabe also declined to comment.

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