Judiciary

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A retired immigration judge has been fined $1,000 and barred from federal service for 30 months for criticizing Republican immigration policy while on the bench.

Ruling on behalf of the Merit System Protection Board, an administrative law judge found that the comments by Carmene “Zsa Zsa” DePaolo violated the Hatch Act, according to a press release by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. Law360, CNBC and UPI have stories.

The Hatch Act prevents federal executive branch employees from engaging in partisan political activities while on duty and from using their official authority to interfere with or influence the outcome of an election.

DePaolo made her comments during a March 2016 hearing for an immigrant facing deportation and a 10-year ban on reentry to the United States, according to the decision by the administrative law judge, Dean Metry.

DePaolo said the policy affecting the immigrant was “a pretty harsh thing.” Hillary Clinton would change the policy, DePaolo said, provided that “the Senate becomes a Democratic body and there’s some hope that they can actually pass immigration legislation.”

DePaolo said the Republicans “aren’t going to do anything” about immigration “if they can help it,” other than to “try to deport everybody.”

Metry’s opinion said DePaolo’s commentary “raises the specter that this nation’s courtrooms are partisan, and that judges consider political platforms when advising litigants. The very nature of her offense politicizes the judiciary and the federal workforce.”

“While it is true a judge may express hope that a law change from the bench, she must do so in a neutral fashion, not while expressing hope for change contingent on Democrats winning office,” the decision said. “The former is quite routine, the latter violates the Hatch Act.”

The Office of Special Counsel filed the Hatch Act complaint against DePaolo last year. The office is an independent executive branch agency charged with enforcing the Hatch Act, and it is not part of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.

DePaolo told CNBC she believes she was singled out for disciplinary action.

When the complaint was pending, a lawyer for DePaolo said in a statement that the Office of Special Counsel was trying to “muzzle a hardworking immigration judge,” and “this case stretches the Hatch Act far beyond where any reported case has ever taken it before.”

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