On Friday, July 7, 2023, the U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review Board of Immigration Appeals suspended attorney Mary M. Cowan for committing 24 counts of misconduct.

The case is entitled “In the Matter of Mary M. Cowan.”

Cowan who practiced law in the State of Arizona found herself entangled in a legal battle as Disciplinary Counsel commenced disciplinary proceedings against her. The proceedings were launched on August 15, 2019, with the filing of a notice of intent to discipline (NID). The objective of this action was to seek a suspension of Cowan’s practice privileges before both the Board of Immigration Appeals and the Immigration Courts, lasting a period of two years. Notably, the Disciplinary Counsel representing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took a step further by advocating for a parallel suspension from practicing before the agency.

The notice of intent to discipline outlined a total of 24 counts against the attorney, each of which potentially warranted disciplinary measures under specific regulations. These regulations pertained to a range of offenses including frivolous behavior, conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, competence, and failure to exercise reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client. In response to the allegations, Cowan submitted a timely answer to the notice of intent to discipline and concurrently requested a formal hearing. This request was granted by the Board, as confirmed by a decision issued on October 31, 2019.

On appeal, Cowan lodged various arguments challenging the Adjudicating Official’s (AO) decision. Cowan contended, among other things, that she was denied due process. She argued that the evidence introduced by the government “established only past problems with her representation” that had “since been substantially corrected.” Additionally, given the totality of the facts in her case, Cowan asserted that “any sanction involving her suspension would be unwarranted”. On the other hand, the government asserted that the AO’s findings regarding the factual allegations, disciplinary charges, and imposed sanction were supported and warranted by the clear and convincing evidence in the record.

The filing states:

“The respondent argues on appeal that “there is no statutory mechanism by which the government should have been able to have such allegations admitted without the right of Respondent to challenge them at the hearing if it is not a summary proceeding” As properly found by the AO. 8 C.F.R. 1003. expressly and specifically contemplates the deemed admission.”

The filing continues:

“The respondent also argues that she was denied due process when the AO penned testimony concerning acts that were not charged in the NID. Specifically. the respondent takes issue with Immigration Judge Thomas O’Leary’s testimony concerning her past conduct that preceded those charged in the NID.”

The Board affirmed the decision to sustain the disciplinary charges. According to them, Cowan did not identify any clearly erroneous findings of fact or legal errors in the analysis of each of the disciplinary charges for counts 1-11. The reviewing court, based on the entire evidence, was left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake had been committed. Cowan, on appeal, did not meaningfully challenge the AO’s findings and conclusions that she had engaged in frivolous behavior, failed to provide competent representation, and failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in her prior appellate practice. This practice involved filing a notice of appeals without first making reasonable efforts to determine if there were any appealable issues. Furthermore, after determining later that there were no appealable issues, Cowan simply allowed the appeals to be summarily dismissed. She did not file a timely appeal brief, provide a timely explanation for the failure to file an appeal brief, or offer a notification that the appeals were no longer being pursued.

Counts 12-16 and count 19 in the notice of intent to discipline involved six cases where Cowan had failed to meet court-ordered brief deadlines. The Board stated that during the hearing, Cowan didn’t contest the factual basis of these counts or her failure to adhere to the deadlines. On appeal, Cowan didn’t dispute the AO findings that her failure to meet these deadlines indicated a lapse in providing competent representation and demonstrated a lack of reasonable diligence and promptness. Though not explicitly referencing the regulation, she argued that her delays hadn’t significantly disrupted the administrative process, which prohibits conduct prejudicial to justice administration.

Accordingly, the Board concurred with the AO’s assessment that the combined pattern of misconduct exhibited by Cowan, the potential harm inflicted upon her vulnerable clients due to this misconduct, and the likelihood of this misconduct being repeated necessitates the imposition of a substantial penalty in the form of suspension.

The Disposition states:

“The Board’s decision dated July 5.2023. is vacated. It is further ordered that the appeal is dismissed and she is suspended from practice before the Board of Immigration Appeals. the Immigration Courts. and DHS for a period of two years, effective 15 days from the date of this order”

Ms. Cowan practices in Tucson, Arizona. She is licensed in Arizona. Her info can be found on lawyersjustia.com.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.