The US Office of Special Counsel announced Tuesday an immigration judge has been disciplined for violating the Hatch Act from the bench at a 2016 deportation hearing by promoting then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's plan for immigration reform.
Carmene DePaolo, who was formerly employed by the US Department of Justice and has since retired, has been fined the maximum civil penalty of $1,000 and faces a 30-month debarment from federal service. The disciplinary action was imposed by an administrative law judge on behalf of the Merit Systems Protection Board for violating the Hatch Act, which limits certain political activities of federal employees.
At an immigration hearing in March 2016 over which DePaolo presided, an individual was facing deportation and a 10-year bar on reentry into the United States, which DePaolo called "a pretty harsh thing," according to the OSC. In a hearing that was open to the public, she said Clinton intended to change that policy, provided "the Senate becomes a Democratic body and there's some hope that they can actually pass immigration legislation."
DePaolo said in the hearing that Republicans "aren't going to do anything" about immigration "if they can help it," other than to "try to deport everybody," according to the OSC.
CNN has reached out to DePaolo for comment.
The Hatch Act is intended to stop the federal government from influencing elections or carrying out its activities in a partisan manner, and according to the OSC's own explanation of the rule, it applies to federal employees as well as state and local employees who work with federally funded programs. The rule is a workplace guideline, and violating it is not a crime. Responses can vary significantly if employees violate the rule.
The decision states DePaolo's action "politicizes the judiciary" and "raises the specter that this nation's courtrooms are partisan, and that judges consider political platforms when advising litigants."
"This conduct sends a bad message to subordinates," the decision states, "and possibly instils the notion that political activity is allowed at work. If a judge can say it from the bench, what stops other employees from making these statements in the office?"
In June 2018, OSC filed a complaint charging DePaolo with violating the Hatch Act. The Office of Special Counsel is an independent agency and is not related to the special counsel investigation that was led by Robert Mueller.