Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) Award Interviews: Manuel Rios and Deborah Niedermeyer receive WSBA 2015 Award of Merit
On September 23, 2015, Manuel Rios and Deborah Niedermeyer were honored with the Washington State Bar Association 2015 Award of Merit, the Association’s highest award! They received the award for their pioneering work and successful lawsuit protecting immigrants from the legal and financial abuses of “notarios”, or unlicensed immigration law practitioners. This is what NW Lawyer magazine (December 2015 – January 2016, pg. 36) had to say about their case and award:
This award is the WSBA’s highest honor and is given for a recent, singular achievement. It is awarded to invidividuals only — both lawyers and non-lawyers.
This award is in recognition of Deborah M. Niedermeyer and Manuel F. Rios’ work in filing the first-ever lawsuit against unlicensed immigration consultants under Washington’s 2011 Immigration Services Fraud Prevention Act.
Unlicensed immigration law practitioners, also known as “notarios,” prey on unsophisticated immigrants with limited knowledge of English and the U.S. legal system. The processing of immigration cases by these unlicensed practitioners of law violates both criminal and civil laws in the state of Washington. Due to errors and false statements by these unlicensed practitioners, their victims are often left exposed to serious adverse legal consequences, including detention, deportation, and/or permanent separation from family in the United States. Moreover, because unlicensed immigration law practitioners frequently claim or imply that they are attorneys, their operations undermine the reputation of and the public’s confidence in the legal profession, especially within vulnerable immigrant communities.
In 2014, Niedermeyer and Rios filed a consumer protection suit on behalf of a family which had been defrauded and seriously injured by a pair of notarios. After over 80 hours of pro bono representation, Niedermeyer and Rios reached a settlement with the defendants, who agreed to pay in full what the law anticipates: triple damages to the plaintiffs, plus costs and attorneys’ fees. Niedermeyer and Rios have donated 100 percent of their attorney fees to WA-AILA to set up a revolving fund to finance service of process and filing fees for future cases, to help promote the use of a “private attorney general” strategy to protect vulnerable immigration clients, and to educate immigration lawyers on how to successfully file similar consumer protection actions.
Niedermeyer is a contract attorney specializing in immigration, consumer protection, civil rights and Indian law. Her pro bono work includes nonprofit corporate governance advice and autism-related civil rights issues. She is the chair of the WA-AILA Professional Responsibility and Consumer Protection Committee.
Rios, a partner at the firm of Rios & Cruz, P.S. in Seattle, has practiced immigration law since 1997 and has been a consultant attorney for the Mexican Consulate in Washington for immigration matters since 2002. In 2009, Rios received the Latino Bar Association of Washington’s Miembro Exceptional Award for his pro bono work against notarios in the Latino community, and in 2013 he was awarded the Premio Othli by the Mexican government for his work on behalf of Mexican immigrants in the United States.