The Justice Department pushed back Tuesday against a Texas judge's demand that its lawyers attend an ethics course, saying the sanction is inappropriate and could cost the government and taxpayers millions of dollars.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, who earlier blocked President Barack Obama's immigration executive action, ordered legal training this month after saying he was misled by Justice Department attorneys about whether the government had begun implementing one of the proposals. He said that "for whatever reason Justice Department trial lawyers appearing in this court chose not to tell the truth."
In a response Tuesday, the department said it "emphatically" disagrees with Hanen that any of its lawyers acted in bad faith or with the intent to deceive. The government asked the judge to put his order on hold so that federal lawyers can seek review of it.
Justice Department lawyers are already generally required to complete at least four hours of professionalism training a year. Imposing additional educational requirements on more than 3,000 attorneys could cost up to $1.5 million this year alone in direct expenditures and lost productivity, the government said.
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"The sanctions ordered by the Court far exceed the bounds of appropriate remedies for what this Court concluded were intentional misrepresentations, a conclusion that was reached without proper procedural protections and that lacks sufficient evidentiary support," department lawyers wrote.
A telephone message left with the office of Hanen, who sits in Brownsville, Texas, was not immediately returned.
The dispute centers on statements made by Justice Department attorneys to the court during a legal fight over Obama's executive action on immigration, which would shield roughly 4 million people from deportation and make them eligible to work in the United States. Hanen last year issued a preliminary injunction that halted those measures after Texas and more than two dozen other states sued.
Before the injunction was issued, Justice Department attorneys told Hanen one key part of Obama's actions -- an expansion of a program that protects young immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the U.S. illegally as children -- hadn't taken effect.
Federal officials later revealed they had given more than 108,000 people three-year reprieves from deportation and granted them work permits under the program. Justice Department attorneys had previously insisted the reprieves were granted under 2012 guidelines, which weren't stopped by the injunction.
The Justice Department told Hanen on Tuesday that there's insufficient evidence to show that the government withheld information or intentionally deceived the judge or the states.