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Walter Burrier operates in an almost impalpable area of the law. He’s admitted to the bar in Connecticut, but his law office is in California and he practices solely in federal immigration court. So to whom does an aggrieved client — or in Burrier’s case, aggrieved clients — turn? Not to California. Burrier, a solo practitioner, isn’t licensed to practice there. Not to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, either. Formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, it has only one attorney and one paralegal handling lawyer grievances brought to it from across the country. Instead, the burden falls on individual states where the lawyer has been admitted to the bar. In Burrier’s case, Connecticut is the only state where he’s licensed. Under federal law, an attorney is allowed to appear in federal immigration matters — both before immigration judges and at the Board of Immigration Appeals — as an “Attorney of the United States” by virtue of admission to any state bar. Under In re Lozada, a 1998 BIA decision, if clients feel they’ve been denied due process because of ineffective counsel, they have to file a grievance before their appeal will be heard. Federal authorities will adopt and enforce discipline orders from the admitting jurisdictions on a reciprocal or commensurate basis. But even though the regulations require such complaints to be made to state bar officials, immigration authorities don’t wait for a complaint’s disposition before determining an immigrant’s fate. “There have been a number of Lozada cases in Connecticut,” Chief Disciplinary Counsel Mark Dubois said. “It’s not an insignificant portion of the [state's] grievance volume.” Dubois said his office is currently handling 10 such cases. In the first of three such complaints brought against Burrier, he stands accused of not telling a client that an immigration court had dismissed her case. In another case, a local grievance panel found probable cause that Burrier or one of his employees allegedly changed his client’s name on an immigration application — apparently to avoid the problem of a prior case having been filed in New York — as well as failed to notify the client of a hearing before immigration authorities in Tucson, Ariz., or to be available for a telephone conference with an immigration judge. The grievance panel also found probable cause that he lied to the client about having “passed” the immigration review and charged a large fee for work the local panel considered woefully deficient. The client was ordered deported in absentia and was arrested. In all the cases, Burrier, who could not be reached for comment, has admitted some responsibility, according to Dubois’ brief. In the deportation case, he admits to not notifying the client she had a hearing in Arizona, which led to her arrest. Dubois, whose office was formed this year, said such cases can be extremely complicated, especially for grievance panels with little experience in immigration law. There is also the matter of witnesses — or the lack of them. In Burrier’s case, the SGC has no hope of having realistic oversight of him going forward, Dubois said in a pre-trial brief in the case. “Attorney Burrier’s practice is in California, [which makes] it difficult for bar counsel or disciplinary counsel to consider some form of supervised probation, practice mentoring, or other prophylactic devices,” Dubois wrote. “While Attorney Burrier, in his dealings with disciplinary counsel has appeared sincere, honest, and truly motivated to addressing the problems … disciplinary counsel is at a loss to suggest how the goal of public protection can be served.”

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