A federal judge in California has imposed a written gag order for lawyers who are negotiating the fate of the Obama administration’s family detention program after details of a confidential preliminary ruling were leaked to the press.
U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee issued the order after McClatchy published details of her tentative ruling April 24 that the administration’s policy of detaining immigrant mothers and children violated parts of a 1997 settlement on child migrants.
Days after the article was published, the judge held a conference call on confidentiality in which she admonished the lawyers. In the call May 4, she said she expected both sides to exercise better common sense and didn’t understand how someone can “accidentally give a summary of my tentative to the press.” She reminded the lawyers that she’d agreed to provide a copy of the tentative ruling only to help them frame their arguments.
“I agreed to allow that. Although now, given this experience, you can be credited for making sure that I will never do that again,” Gee said, according to a transcript of the conference call.
The confidentiality order prohibits lawyers from “sharing, publicizing, discussing or otherwise disseminating” information regarding the tentative ruling, as well as their negotiations over it, with anyone other than a specific group of lawyers, family and experts.
During the conference call, government lawyers raised concerns about the news coverage, saying they feared that immigration advocates would use the news media to solicit feedback about potential agreements on dealing with the migrant children now being detained with their mothers.
“This worries us, if the next time we make an offer to them to try to resolve this matter, it’s going to be blasted in a community environment: ‘What do you think of the government’s offer?’ ” said Leon Fresco, a deputy assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice .
The attorney for the mothers, Peter Schey, agreed to the order, but noted that he and his colleagues had provided only a general overview to experts and other stakeholders in order to discuss potential proposals for the government.
The tentative ruling says the children and their mothers can’t be held in unlicensed secure facilities such as the government’s two largest facilities in Karnes City and Dilley, Texas, according to memos obtained by McClatchy that describe the document. It specifies that migrant children be released to family or, if held, be housed in the least restrictive environment.
Gee gave migrants’ attorneys and the Obama administration until May 24 to come up with an agreement on how to handle the children.