A Raleigh immigration attorney has been found guilty of disobeying a judge's orders to stop texting in court, and disrupting the court's proceedings.
Beckie Moriello was tried yesterday in Charlotte. Each of the two charges came with the possibility of fines and up to thirty days' imprisonment, but according to her attorney, Rob Heroy, because of Moriello's clean record, she was not given a jail or probation sentence. She was ordered to pay $2,510 in fines, he said.
Moriello and her attorney plan to appeal the case.
Moriello doesn't deny
that she used her cell phone in Judge Barry Pettinato's court while observing an asylum hearing on June 29, 2017. A directive from the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) allows attorneys to use electronic devices in court for business purposes and signs posted in the Charlotte immigration court say the same.
The EOIR directive says a judge can prohibit the use of electronic devices if it's causing a disturbance, but that isn't reflected in statutes that empower immigration judges.
"The crux of the issue was the security guard and judge even having the authority to tell me not to use my phone because there's no statute that says that," Moriello said Friday.
What's more, Moriello disagrees she caused a disturbance, which isn't defined in the directive (although she says her attorney admitted she did).
"I think there's no reasonable definition that I was disturbing anything. I was sitting in the back row silently using my phone for work, which I'm allowed to do according to the EOIR security directive and according to posted signs right outside the court," she said.
Heroy had sought audio of the June 29 proceedings to shed light on whether Moriello had in fact disrupted the court. That was not turned over because of rules around confidentiality. Instead the defense got " a very redacted transcript of the hearing," Heroy said.
"You would be amazed at the resources the government threw at this trial," Heroy said. "There were more government attorneys in the room than they put in there for RICO cases or cartel prosecutions."
Moriello's supporters packed the courtroom to the point that some were not allowed in due to space. Court proceedings took up much of the day Thursday and included testimony from the security guard who ordered Moriello to stop using her phone, Pettinato, an official from the General Services Administration, and Moriello herself.
Moriello and her attorney argue the cell phone directive is being enforced arbitrarily in her case; asked about his opinion of her, Pettinato described Moriello as "difficult" and overzealous, she said. Two other attorneys testified that it's common for lawyers to use phones and Kindles in court without reprimand.
"My biggest concern at this point is where does that leave us in court because we all use our phones," she said. "... Does everyone who is using their phone have to risk paying $300 because that's the plea that was offered to me? Are they suddenly cracking down on this? Where does this leave us?"