The man, Jian Zhong Sun, testified at his asylum hearing in 2004 that the authorities in China had forced his wife to get an abortion in her first pregnancy, and that he had been beaten and threatened with sterilization during her second pregnancy in 1993, causing him to flee to the United States before his daughter was born.
The court found that Judge Ferris’s decision to deny Mr. Sun’s claim for asylum was “not supported by substantial evidence.”
The court also found “most troubling” Judge Ferris’s “note for the record” that the petitioner’s emotional reaction to questions about his daughter was “way out of proportion.”
Asked about his tears at the asylum hearing, Mr. Sun, a restaurant worker, had said, “I’m crying because I have not seen my daughter after 11 years.”
A little later, when Mr. Sun wept again as he answered questions about the forced abortion, Judge Ferris interrupted the hearing, complaining on the record of “the respondent’s disproportionate behavior in this courtroom.”
In an interview yesterday, Mr. Sun, a thin man of 43, recalled his despair at the judge’s attitude.
“The judge was very fierce toward me,” he said through a translator. “I felt very painful talking about the abortion. I was very upset and my tears were coming down my face, and the judge was very impatient. She told me to go out.”
“I felt very disappointed and hopeless, because this was my chance to tell my story,” he added. “I thank God and thank the U.S. government to give me dignity and give me rights.”
The appeals court generally defers to an immigration judge’s assessment of a petitioner’s demeanor, the three-judge panel noted.
But in this case, it said, “a credibility finding rooted in flawed reasoning cannot stand.” Besides rejecting the judge’s decision as “speculative and conjectural,” and faulting her exclusion of important documents in the case, it said her comments and her conduct raised doubts about the fairness and reliability of the record, requiring that another immigration judge hear Mr. Sun’s case.
Immigration lawyers in New York said they could recall no other case of such a decision except for Jeffrey S. Chase, another immigration judge in New York City, who was relieved of court duties in March and assigned to a desk job after he was repeatedly rebuked by federal appeals judges for his hostile questioning of asylum seekers.
Judge Ferris, 56, an immigration judge since 1994, has a distinguished legal background.
She has a track record of granting asylum in nearly half the cases she handles, but she is also known among courtroom veterans for displays of anger and impatience. Theodore N. Cox, Mr. Sun’s appeals lawyer, said several more appeals seeking review of Judge Ferris’s hostile commentary from the bench were “in the pipeline.”