Marlene Ramallo Cooke, widow of Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, can remain in the United States for at least four more months while her attorneys keep fighting the Justice Department over plans to deport her.
Cooke and her attorneys appeared in U.S. District Court in Washington yesterday to argue that U.S. immigration authorities have no legal right to return her to her native Bolivia. Government lawyers argued otherwise and urged Judge Emmet G. Sullivan to dismiss her lawsuit immediately.
Sullivan, however, said he was not inclined to reject Cooke's claim so quickly. He ordered attorneys on both sides to submit briefs during the summer. A follow-up hearing is scheduled for Oct. 1. Meanwhile, Cooke can stay in the country.
Cooke, who gained prominence during her sometimes tumultuous marriage to Jack Kent Cooke, declined comment on her latest legal strategy, as did one of her attorneys, Lynda Schuler.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service wants to deport Cooke, citing her 1986 guilty plea to a charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Because she was not a U.S. citizen, the conviction subjected her to deportation procedures. Cooke contends that the government promised in 1988 not to deport her in return for her help in narcotics investigations. Both sides agreed that Cooke's cooperation helped lock up major drug dealers.
But in court yesterday, the Justice Department's Mary Jane Candaux said Cooke was supposed to remain in the United States only until the drug investigations were completed. Once that was over, in 1992, the INS acted to deport her. If anyone from the Drug Enforcement Administration made promises beyond that, Candaux said, they were "contrary to law" and not binding.
The two sides have gone back and forth over the issue in previous court proceedings. Cooke earlier filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court contending that she had a "contract" to stay in the United States. A federal judge ruled in her favor in 1996, but the decision was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The Supreme Court declined in March to hear that case.
Cooke and the INS also are fighting before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond over administrative procedures used by the INS in its efforts to deport her. Candaux contended that the Richmond court is the proper forum for Cooke's legal challenges and accused her of "shopping" around for a favorable decision.
The latest Washington lawsuit, filed in March, alleges that deportation would be an extreme violation of Cooke's constitutional rights to due process. Cooke's attorneys contend that she has no chance of survival if returned to Bolivia because of her cooperation in the drug investigations.