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Torn apart, immigrant family blames Iowa lawyer

Torn apart, immigrant family blames Iowa lawyer

A lawyer who gave bad advice that caused illegal immigrants from Ecuador to be separated from their children and grandchildren in Iowa for at least a decade can be sued for the family's pain and suffering, a court ruled Wednesday.
A jury has already ordered Des Moines attorney Michael Said to refund the family's legal fees of $12,500, but a new trial should determine whether he should be required to pay damages for emotional distress and punitive damages for his legal malpractice, the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled.
At issue is the faulty advice that Said gave a husband and wife from Ecuador, Klever Miranda and Nancy Campoverde, that has caused the couple to be separated for years from their young son, a U.S. citizen who is now a teenager; two adult children; and several grandchildren. Their relatives live in the Des Moines area.
Klever Miranda had come to the U.S. illegally in 1989, and was facing a court order requiring his deportation. His son, Cesar Miranda, got married and was in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen in 2005, when the family hired Said to see whether his parents had any new options to stay.
Said advised the couple they should return to Ecuador and ask immigration officials for waivers allowing them to re-enter the U.S. by listing Cesar Miranda as a "qualifying relative." He told them they had a 99 percent chance of succeeding, and they followed his advice, according to the appeals court ruling.
But after returning to Ecuador in 2007, they learned during an interview with immigration officials at the consulate that their son was not a qualifying relative and they could not return. And because they had been in the U.S. illegally, they were subjected to a 10-year ban from re-entering the country.
"Klever and Nancy were then stranded in Ecuador, separated from their children," the ruling said.
The couple and their son sued Said, alleging legal malpractice. A jury ruled in their favor in 2010, but only after a judge said they could be reimbursed for legal fees and nothing more.
Cesar Miranda, 31, a chef in West Des Moines, said his four children have been unable to regularly see their grandparents. He said his youngest brother, now 13, is growing up without his parents and being raised by an aunt and other relatives.
"Imagine yourself being away from your kids for 10 years. Imagine how hard that can be. It has been very difficult for my kids not to grow up with grandma or grandpa," he said. "We can see them maybe once a year if we can afford to go to Ecuador. It's really hard. I don't wish anybody in the world this experience."
Cesar Miranda said he was pleased with the ruling and hoped it would hold lawyers accountable for bad advice.
His attorney, Angela Campbell, said the ruling was the first of its kind from a state court in Iowa and would help "people that find themselves in an extreme situation, like the Mirandas did."
The court said pain and suffering damages were typically reserved for cases of physical harm but applied here because Said "knew of the emotional distress that could result from Klever's and Nancy's separation from their family."
A judge should have allowed the family to seek punitive damages because a jury could find that Said "demonstrated a willful or reckless disregard for the plaintiffs' rights," the court wrote. Evidence showed the waivers that Said prepared for them had no chance of working, the court added, with his own expert concluding they "fell below the standard of care."
"Every expert who testified at trial stated the action taken by Said had no possibility of success, and yet he persisted in advising his clients to take actions that would result in being separated from their family, including their minor child, for at least ten years," the court said.
Said said he was "looking forward to" the new trial but declined further comment.


Updated : 2020-12-05 19:39 GMT+08:00