Dallas attorney exposes visa fraud, receives national service award

Last month, Shamoil T. Shipchandler, a partner in the Dallas office of Bracewell & Giuliani, received the Secretary of Homeland Security’s Meritorious Service Award (Silver Medal) for his role in exposing an illegal visa fraud operation.

Shipchandler, at the time a federal prosecutor, led a team of agents and support staff from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State in the investigation and settlement of claims against Infosys Corporation, a global consulting and IT services company based in India.

According to a statement released by the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Texas, the government alleged instances of Infosys circumventing the requirements, limitations, and governmental oversight of the H-1B visa program by knowingly and unlawfully using B-1 visa holders to perform skilled labor in order to fill positions in the United States for employment that would otherwise be performed by U.S. citizens or require legitimate H-1B visa holders. Ultimately, the case settlement involved Infosys paying $34 million, the largest payment ever levied in an immigration case.

The Texas Bar Journal recently spoke with Shipchandler about his role in the settlement.

How did you get involved in the case?

I received a referral from a colleague in Atlanta who told me that there was a lawyer who had information about a possible visa fraud scheme in the Eastern District of Texas. I put that lawyer in touch with federal agents from the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security so that they could determine whether there was any merit to the allegations.

How did you approach the case? What was your strategy?

The most critical part of any case, whether approaching it from the prosecution side or from the defense side, is a solid understanding of the facts. So our job was to understand the facts as best we could using all of the tools at our disposal, from subpoenas to interviews and everything in between. Once we felt grounded in the facts, we kept an open line of communication with counsel for Infosys so that we could discuss whether and how the facts constituted a violation of the law.

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The importance of professionalism

 By Stuart D. Colburn

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the Texas Lawyer’s Creed, so it seems fitting to take a moment or two to pause and reflect on what it means to be an attorney—how we work, interact with colleagues and clients, and uphold the rule of law. In a profession as honorable and noble as ours, it is imperative that we treat others with respect and courtesy. The following account will hopefully act as a reminder—and a prompt—to reaffirm your commitment to the Texas Lawyer’s Creed and our profession.

“We are not used to plaintiff and defense attorneys getting along,” said the bailiff to a shocked out-of-town attorney following a two-day civil trial. The bailiff, affable and well-liked as evidenced by the number of folks who admitted knowing him during voir dire, explained that most attorneys openly disparage each other—and not necessarily under their breath.

Some Texas litigators might assume this trial had taken place in a large city, where Rambo-litigation tactics have been common and are sometimes still practiced. But the setting for the trial was a small Hill Country hamlet. The bailiff’s comments were surprising because this small town should be a place where attorneys get along.

The good behavior of the lawyers in this case was not because the two attorneys were long-time friends. Indeed, we had never met before. We had our objections and our legal disagreements. However, we could make our points without hate or contempt. In fact, we played the part of small-town lawyers that even the small town did not recognize.

Others have criticized attorney behavior with far more insight and articulation than I. Some clients and jurors even expect bad behavior. The media portrayal of lawyers strengthens these perceptions, and our own commercials and billboards tell the world that successful lawyers win by intimidation and bully tactics.

Some—but not all—judges lament this behavior, as I discovered several years ago. I had presented motions to abate in two cases in two different cities. In each case, my client was paying benefits. The suit was filed to protect against a statute of limitations, but the parties were awaiting a ruling from the Texas Supreme Court that would fundamentally change the governing law and therefore the attorney’s preparation and discovery. My client would owe the other side’s attorney fees if we did not prevail. Therefore continuing discovery would have increased the legal expenses that my client might have been obligated to pay.

A judge in northern Central Texas listened to the lawyers’ arguments and asked opposing counsel what harm to his client would granting the request for abatement cause. My adversary (an exceptional attorney) didn’t answer the question and instead reiterated his argument. The seasoned judge calmly repeated his inquiry, only this time perhaps with more emphasis. I don’t remember the specifics of the non-answer, but I do remember the judge’s response: “Do you know the green-card rule here?” The other attorney admitted he was not familiar with that rule. Neither was I. The judge continued, “When a fellow attorney asks you for something and it does not hurt you or your client, you grant the request. Otherwise your green card to practice . . . [here] will be revoked. Do you understand?” My then-immediate feeling was elation that my arguments had won the day. Upon reflection, however, the more meaningful lesson—and the reason for the decision—is the admonishment to treat lawyers as lawyers should be treated.

A couple of months later, we appeared in another courtroom ready to make the same arguments in a different courthouse to a different judge. I arrived early to observe the judge’s style. The judge would decide early on in his ruling and then proceed to mock the “losing” lawyer until satisfied with the gallery’s response to his comedic routine. My opponent’s arguments won the day this time.

Divergent results in a courtroom, especially in different geographical locales, are not surprising and even expected. I examined the courtroom behavior, and the treatment of lawyers by the bench and other lawyers was the sharpest distinction.

I have often repeated the green-card lesson to young lawyers, believing such courtroom culture best matches the ideals of justice and professionalism. Although we do not always reach our ideal, it is far better to reach and fail than to settle for the low expectations of bad behavior.

My friend and former State Bar of Texas President Richard Pena recently returned from Turkey, where attorneys were being arrested for standing up for the rule of law. As we discussed his trip, I could not help but think that half a world away, our honorable profession struggles with professionalism.

Changing a culture takes determination, patience, and leadership. If change will come at all, leaders must envision it, judges must require it, lawyers who value professionalism must encourage it, and we all need to expect it.

A culture of professionalism at the bar is worthy of our aspirations. A small-town bailiff should not be surprised when litigants behave as they should.

Texas Appleseed recognizes legal leaders

An assortment of legal professionals and organizations were awarded during Texas Appleseed’s annual Good Apple Dinner, which took place on Nov. 20 in Austin.

The organization gave former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson the J. Chrys Dougherty Good Apple Award while George Brothers Kincaid & Horton received the Pro Bono Leadership Award. Additionally, the State Bar of Texas was recognized for training attorneys to represent children in the foster care system. Vinson & Elkins and the Vernon Law Group were both recognized for taking on truancy cases in Texas.

Texas Appleseed is a nonprofit whose mission is to promote social and economic justice for all Texans. For more information on the organization, go to texasappleseed.net.

 

Public again warned against paying for fraudulent immigration legal services

In the days since President Barack Obama announced his decision to take executive action on certain immigration policies, there will likely be an increase in scams targeting those who are interested in avoiding deportation under the new plan.

According to an article in the Austin American-Statesman on Monday, Mexican authorities and Austin-area attorneys are warning the public against using fraudulent notarios and other individuals who act as lawyers but are not licensed. It will take several months before immigrants in the United States can even apply for work permits under Obama’s plan, so people should be cautious when paying for such quick legal assistance.

In August, amid the unaccompanied minor situation along the Texas-Mexico border, the State Bar of Texas similarly warned the public against using notarios and others who falsely represent themselves as lawyers. To read that press release, which has additional information on notario fraud, go to http://www.texasbar.com/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Press_Releases&Template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=26689. The State Bar’s Web page on immigration legal resources is available at texasbar.com/immigration.

Texas corporate counsel community raises $71,026 for civil legal aid

The Texas Access to Justice Commission, in conjunction with the General Counsel Forum, raised $71,026 for civil legal aid during the 3rd Annual Charity Golf Classic held Thursday in San Antonio.

This year’s event exceeded the amount raised during last year’s tournament and is more than double the amount raised in the inaugural tournament. The proceeds will be donated to the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.

Legal aid organizations funded by foundation help more than 100,000 low-income Texas families each year. Many need help with critical civil legal issues impacting their very existence such as securing safety for victims of domestic abuse, obtaining medical care for veterans and the elderly, and helping families maintain their housing. Due to a lack of resources, only about 20 percent of the civil legal needs of low-income and poor Texans are being met.

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Harvest Celebration raises more than $668,000

The Houston Bar Association, Houston Bar Foundation, and Houston Bar Association Auxiliary hosted the 65th Harvest Celebration on Monday, Nov. 17, raising over $668,000 for pro bono efforts. More than 1,000 Houston Bar Association members and guests attended the event, which honored area law firms, corporate legal departments, and individuals who are providing pro bono services to Houstonians.

Member benefits - marketing and managing your practice

Marketing and managing your practice can be a full-time job. Save on products and services to make that job easier with your State Bar of Texas Member Discount Program.

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Texas Supreme Court approves restyled evidence rules

The Texas Supreme Court approved an order Wednesday adopting revised evidence rules, triggering a comment period that ends Feb. 28.

The revisions to the Texas Rules of Evidence are intended to mirror 2011 amendments to the Federal Rules of Evidence, with the goal of making the rules easier to understand, according to the court order.

Final approval of the restyled rules will be effective April 1.

 

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Lessons and impressions from 50 years of practicing law

By James Boanerges

When I was attending Lamar High School in Houston, a lawyer and an accountant came to campus one day to address the student body. The first speaker, famous criminal defense attorney Percy Foreman, made a huge impression with his booming voice and engaging smile. The accountant, a mild-mannered, nondescript fellow, simply could not compete. Several years later, working as an attorney, I was taking a tour of students around the courthouse. While we were waiting for the elevators in the basement of the criminal courts building, Foreman walked up. I proudly introduced him to the group, and he graciously beamed out to the kids as he had to me. One of those students may have written his or her account of becoming a lawyer as a result of that experience.

In the summer of 1962, I had three years of college, no LSAT, no degree. Only the idea of becoming a lawyer. My new bride and I visited law schools in Texas, all of which turned me down and told me to come back with a degree—except for Baylor. I found out that the process of making lawyers was similar to selecting a jury; only about a third stick around. This truth was built into the design of the classrooms, with each year’s class size getting progressively smaller as more students gave up or were not allowed to return. Because I had no undergraduate degree and had a wife and child, I had no alternative but to study and pass. I was licensed in 1964 at age 22.

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State Bar advises on Erwin Center street closures and parking ahead of new lawyer induction on Monday

On the morning of Nov. 17, the State Bar of Texas will congratulate and administer the oath of office to more than 1,000 new attorneys at the New Lawyer Induction Ceremony, held at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin.

If you are a newly licensed attorney or a proud family member or friend attending the event, you’ll notice that the grounds surrounding the Erwin Center are looking very different. With construction of the Dell Medical School Project and the realignment of Red River Street fully underway, some streets and parking lots are currently closed. Please read on for important information regarding these changes.

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