San Francisco Chronicle
S.F. judge who heard immigrant cases quits
Subject of heavy criticism by attorneys rips system
WASHINGTON — An immigration judge in the San Francisco court abruptly quit his post this week, issuing a scathing letter upon his retirement expressing frustration with the entire court system and its U.S. Justice Department management.
The letter does not acknowledge that Judge Nicholas Ford himself was also the subject of criticism from local attorneys representing immigrants, many of whom banded together to file a formal complaint against him alleging hostile and biased treatment of their clients with the Justice Department last year.
In his departure letter addressed to “wonderful” colleagues in the San Francisco immigration court, a copy of which was obtained by The Chronicle, Ford said he had “profound” frustration with Justice Department court managers. Ford said his supervisors were “a fearful community whose primary interest has never been the growth of
those they oversee but rather their own continued employment.”
Ford, a former criminal court judge in Cook County, Ill., said he wanted to issue a “warning” to other immigration judges.
“I am an older judge and it is hard to understand how any court system can function like this,” Ford wrote. “These managers I have spoken of from the director to those in management below her will not support you. As we used to say in Chicago ‘they will throw you under the bus in a minute.’ Stay on your toes and view skeptically anything they tell you.”
Ford did not immediately respond to a voice mail seeking comment.
Ford was named to the immigration court bench in 2019 by thenAttorney General William Barr, after a controversial tenure in Chicago during which he was criticized for jailing a pregnant woman without bail for a nonviolent crime and had a high number of rulings overturned by appellate courts, according to a justice watchdog group.
In San Francisco’s immigration court, the criticism from private attorneys continued. In a complaint filed by more than a dozen law firms and legal organizations that represent immigrants, including the local chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, attorneys said Ford regularly acted in an “aggressive, unprofessional and demeaning” manner toward immigrants and displayed shocking incourt behavior.
According to the complaint, Ford belittled migrants’ stories of abuse and torture in their homelands, asking one person testifying “how many beers sad (sic)” he was and another, “Did anyone ever insert anything into your ass when you were in custody?”
He told another person who said they could not pay an attorney, “I can tell an indigent person when I see one, and you can afford an attorney,” according to the complaint.
The Chronicle has previously reported on the Justice Department’s lack of direct oversight of immigration judges and opaque complaint system that allows bad behavior to flourish.
The department told the National Lawyers Guild that the complaint against Ford had been closed, but refused to divulge the findings or say whether the judge was disciplined because of privacy policies, a representative of the group told The Chronicle.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Ford’s resignation letter or the complaint against him.
After The Chronicle published its investigation in January, the Biden administration replaced the immigration courts director who had been hired under former President Donald Trump. The director oversees the complaint system and function of the immigration court system.
“It is hard to understand how any court system can function like this.” Letter from retired immigration Judge Nicholas Ford