A few months ago I had a 9:30 AM hearing in Immigration Court at 26 Federal Plaza. It was one of those sweltering hot days at the end of May. I knew as soon as I stepped outside my office that morning that, despite the fact that Mercury had gone direct a few weeks before, all was still not right with the universe.
I arrived at the employee/attorney entrance of Federal Plaza to discover that I didn’t have the case “hearing notice” which would have allowed me to forgo the customary “strip search” upon entering the building. Therefore, I had to go around the block to wait in the 90+ degree heat on a line that was longer than any international airport security line I have ever been on in my life— and I traveled out of the country right after 911.
After making it through “Checkpoint Charlie,” I now had to embark on the quest to find my ever elusive hearing room. You see, the Immigration Court at 26 Federal Plaza is a labyrinth fraught with peril and many an immigrant and unsuspecting attorneys have been know to disappear in it.
When I reached the courtroom, my shoulders shrugged in relief as I saw my client standing outside. I was so glad to see him in fact that I did not immediately lecture him on his appearance. As the beads of sweat on my forehead and back started to cool, I put my suite jacket back on and we found seats in the courtroom.
But as soon as we sat down, I began to feel uncomfortable, something was not right.
There was a strange and unfamiliar sense of haste in the air and the judge seemed to be calling cases faster than usual. I decided he must just have beach plans and was grateful that I would be getting done early.
So, I turned my attention to my client’s less than appropriate attire. But no sooner did I get the words “no tee shirts next time” out, then I hear that ghastly shriek and that bloodcurdling message, “attention, this is a test...” No! No please, I looked at the judge with pleading eyes hoping he would just keep going, faster, next case and next case to our number. He was trying hard, but alas our number didn’t come in time and we had to go.
We were herded through the long hallways by a fire marshal who was neither informed nor awake. We then had to walk down 14 flights and go back out into the now 100+ temperatures. As we descended the stairs we ran into a pregnant woman on about the 9th or 10th floor who looked like she would give birth there and then. She said he had asked for an elevator and was told they were out of service. She had a family member with her, so we kept going. I am not sure, but I think a couple of other attorneys gave her their cards as they were passing by.
As we emptied out onto the sidewalk, I could feel my clothes starting to cling and my body begin to rapidly dehydrate. I knew I needed a Starbucks stat.
So, I left my client on the line at about 11:00 AM and went to get a frappucchino across the street. When I returned, no more than 15 minutes later, the lines to get back into the building were wrapped around both sides of the plaza and my client was gone. I tried calling him on his cell phone but there was no answer.
About 45 minutes later, while I was still on the outside portion of the line, I got a call from my client saying that the judge is calling for me. He had jumped ahead of the line when I left, evidently forgetting the nature of the attorney/client relationship.
I didn’t get back up to the court room until 1:00 in the afternoon. As I walked down the long strangely empty hallway to the hearing room and I could see my client leaning against the wall outside. There was a hand written sign on the court room door— “adjourned for lunch until 2:00.”