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U.S. Government Settles Lawsuit Filed By Iranian-American Judge

The Justice Department has settled with an Iranian-American immigration judge who alleged that her superiors had ordered her not to hear cases involving Iranian nationals.

Last year Los Angeles-based Immigration Judge Ashley Tabaddor sued the Justice Department, claiming that the order amounted to discrimination and violated her constitutional rights.

Tuesday, the Justice Department backed down. Judge Tabaddor's attorneys announced that the Justice Department had agreed to lift its order, review its recusal policies and pay her $200,000.

"We are pleased the DOJ came to terms on this matter," said Tabaddor's attorney, Ali Mojdehi, a partner with Cooley.

The back story: Tabaddor has been handling immigration cases since 2005. She says her battle with her superiors at Justice started three years ago when she was invited to a White House meeting with other Iranian-American community leaders. She asked for permission to attend and it was granted. But her bosses also recommended that if she attended the meeting she should recuse herself from all immigration cases involving Iranians. In her lawsuit, Tabaddor claimed that when she returned from Washington the recommended recusal turned into an order.

Fellow immigration judges rose to Tabaddor's defense. President of the National Association of Immigration Judges Dana Leigh Marks told NPR in January 2015, "We do believe that this appears to be discriminatory based on her Iranian heritage."

Typically, immigration judges are randomly assigned new cases. A party can request that a judge recuse him or herself if they suspect bias.

According to her lawsuit, no one accused Tabaddor of bias.

In their court brief, Justice Department lawyers argued that as an immigration judge, Tabaddor had a responsibility to abide by standards of ethical conduct, including "the importance of avoiding the appearance of bias or partiality." They also argued for a dismissal of the case because the judge, as an employee of the Justice Department, is a civil servant and the court has no jurisdiction over her complaint.

The case raised a few eyebrows in the legal community. Ira Kurzban, who teaches immigration law at the University of Miami, said the government's case "made no sense."

"If one takes this to the logical conclusion, then any African-American judge should never hear any case of any person from the Caribbean or Africa. Or any Jewish judge should never hear a case from Israel who's Jewish," said Kurzban.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said the department had no comment.

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