Casa of Maryland ready to see lawsuit all the way through'
Suit against Frederick County Sheriff's Office will proceed
Lawyers for Casa of Maryland said that after months of logistical delays, they are anxious to hear what Sheriff Chuck Jenkins has to say in response to legal arguments about his office's immigration enforcement program.
The Frederick County Sheriff's Office's attempt to dismiss the lawsuit by claiming immunity from legal action was denied by a Montgomery County judge last week, requiring the Sheriff's Office to respond line-by-line to a November complaint filed by Casa by March 16.
Casa representatives said that they are confident that the ruling will propel the lawsuit forward.
"We're going to fight this until we reach the end," Casa attorney Justin Cox said. "We're all in on this, and so there's nothing that's going to stop us from seeing this all the way through."
The complaint by Casa, filed under a Public Information Act lawsuit, alleges constitutional violations and racial profiling in the Sheriff's Office's participation in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement 287(g) program.
The group seeks documents outlining the agreement between ICE and the Sheriff's Office, and all pertinent arrest records, traffic violations and records that reveal the racial breakdown of those detained and deported under the 287(g) program.
The Sheriff's Office argued that Casa could not sue the Sheriff's Office as an entity, but rather the sheriff in his official capacity or the state of Maryland. Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Terrence J. McGann ruled against that argument on Feb. 25.
"Part of the frustration is that we wasted two months on something that shouldn't have even been argued," Cox said. "As soon as the judge understood what they were arguing, he clearly adopted what we were arguing. We're glad that he did, but we're disappointed that we actually had to have a judge tell them that they existed."
Cox said that he considers the judge's decision the official start of the suit, originally filed in November, which aims at forcing the Sheriff's Office to disclose the information under the Maryland's Public Information Act.
The lawsuit has been delayed because Jenkins has failed to answer the complaint filed by Casa lawyers, and has refused to give testimony at scheduled depositions.
Elissa Levan, assistant attorney general who represents the Sheriff's Office, said that legal precedent was the factor in filing the Dec. 29 paperwork to dismiss the case on the grounds that the Sheriff's Office was not a public body.
"It's my position that the Sheriff's Office cannot be an entity based on the case law that exists," Levan said. "And since they're not a public body, they can't be sued."
If that motion was granted, Casa would have needed to re-file its lawsuit. Meanwhile, the sheriff would not be obligated, unless subpoenaed, to appear at a deposition. A deposition is witness testimony given under oath to be used in impending court proceedings.
Jenkins did not attend a scheduled Jan. 14 deposition, spurring action by Casa lawyers shortly after to seek to compel Jenkins to appear for future depositions, and impose sanctions on the sheriff that would reimburse the group for legal fees.
The judge denied the motion to impose sanctions on the sheriff at the Feb. 25 hearing.
The Sheriff's Office has until March 16 to either concede or contest each allegation outlined in the complaint filed in the lawsuit, which the sheriff's lawyer plans to deliver.
"The judge ordered us to answer the complaint by March 16 and that will happen," Levan said. Another deposition will take place shortly after that.
Cox said that Casa believes that it's in the public's interest to know if racial profiling is taking place by the 26 deputies trained in the program. Public interest is often the determining — and winning — factor in a public information lawsuit, Cox said.
"We're trying to shine a light on this program, which we feel has been kind of operating in the shadows," Cox said. "We have very strong anecdotal evidence of constitutional violations and racial profiling and the ultimate goal is to make sure the Sheriff's Office is being held accountable."
E-mail Erica L. Green at email@example.com.