A Los Angeles federal judge ordered the United States government to pay $881,675 in fees to Venice-based attorneys for two female Chinese refugees who were offered asylum in exchange for sex by an immigration officer 14 years ago, it was announced today.
In her Tuesday ruling, U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall found that the United States acted in "bad faith" throughout the course of litigation dating back to 2000, and should pay attorneys' fees to Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison.
The Venice firm filed a fees motion last September under the Equal Access to Justice Act after prevailing at trial with a $1.2 million verdict stemming from civil rights violations suffered by Xue Lu and Jie Hao at the hands of Thomas A. Powell Jr., a former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service asylum officer.
Lu testified that she came to the United States and applied for asylum because of persecution suffered for violating China's family planning policy. Hao said she suffered persecution for her Christian religious beliefs and came to United States for a better life.
Both women said they looked to the United States as a place where they would be treated fairly -- until Powell contacted them for what he termed a "private" offer, isolating each of them and preying on their vulnerability.
In awarding Lu damages of $500,000 last year, Marshall wrote that the woman was in a vulnerable state when subjected to Powell's sexual advances and subsequently suffered, among other things, "loss of enjoyment of life, grief, anxiety, humiliation, emotional distress and has signs of PTSD -- post- traumatic stress disorder -- and physically suffered weight loss, insomnia and avoidance of traumatic reminders."
Marshall awarded Hao $700,000 in damages, finding that she "suffered loss of enjoyment of life, grief, anxiety, nervousness, worry, humiliation, indignity and emotional distress. This was aggravated by the nearly eight-year delay in adjudicating her asylum application," the judge wrote.
Powell was convicted of corruption and civil rights charges and sentenced in 2004 to three years and nine months in prison for soliciting sex and money from asylum seekers. He died in prison shortly afterward.
--City News Service