FB sets team for immigration fight
City plans to hire firm with background in appellate cases
By STEPHANIE SANDOVAL /
The Dallas Morning News
Thursday, August 9, 2007
Farmers Branch plans to hire some big legal guns to take over the court battle on the city's efforts to prevent illegal immigrants from renting apartments.
City Manager Gary Greer said he hopes to have an agreement with the Strasburger & Price law firm within a few days.
“My intent is to hire counsel that has experience in appellate and Supreme Court proceedings,” Mr. Greer said, reinforcing earlier comments from the city's elected officials that they plan to pursue the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Strasburger & Price is one of the largest law firms in the Southwest and practices in nearly 30 areas of the law.
City Council member Tim O'Hare said the city also wanted a firm that believed in Farmers Branch's efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants.
The firm donated $1,000 to the campaign of David Koch, who was elected to the council in May largely because of his support of the apartment ordinance. The firm also represented the Federation for American Immigration Reform, whose request to intervene in the federal lawsuit against the city was denied by the court.
How much Strasburger & Price's representation will cost the city is unclear.
Mr. O'Hare said the firm provided the city with estimates for defending Ordinance 2903, with cost ranges for each stage of the court process, from trial up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Dallas Morning News on Tuesday submitted an open records request seeking that information.
But Mr. Greer on Tuesday would not confirm that the document exists and said that if it does, it is privileged attorney-client information that he can't discuss.
Matthew Boyle, one of the city's attorneys, said Wednesday that the material is privileged attorney-client information and is forwarding the request to the Texas attorney general's office for an opinion.
“You submitted an open records request for secret things we are not going to give you,” Mr. Boyle said.
The city has spent $438,613 on legal costs associated with the anti-illegal immigrant measure. The city has budgeted $424,000 in the general fund for expenses during the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 and has received $39,448 in donations to the legal defense fund.
Budget Director Charles Cox said that as donations come in, they are used to pay legal bills first.
The city also has preliminarily budgeted $424,000 in the general fund for legal costs associated with the ordinance for the upcoming budget year, while maintaining the city's tax rate of 49.45 cents per $100 of valuation. The city is accomplishing that, Mr. Greer said, largely because of increased property values.
Until now, city attorneys Boyle & Lowry have handled most of the legal matters involved in five lawsuits that were filed against the city regarding Ordinance 2903 and its predecessor.
City Council member Ben Robinson said Boyle & Lowry, a small firm that also represents other cities in the Dallas area, was “overloaded” with all the work the illegal immigration issue added.
The biggest case, in which the court combined two lawsuits into one, is pending in federal district court. Apartment owners and residents, represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, and the Bickel & Brewer Storefront, allege in their suit that Ordinance 2903 is unconstitutional and that only the federal government has the power to regulate immigration.
Backed by voters
The ordinance, approved by nearly two-thirds of voters in a record May 12 turnout, would ban most illegal immigrants from renting apartments by requiring landlords to obtain documents proving that tenants are U.S. citizens or in the country legally.
Mr. Boyle, of Boyle & Lowry crafted the ordinance, which was picked apart by Judge Sam Lindsay of the Northern District Court in June. The judge's order issuing a preliminary injunction halted the city from implementing the ordinance until the case is resolved in trial.
Mr. Boyle had acknowledged in the injunction hearing that there were “drafting issues” with the ordinance. He submitted three proposals showing how the judge could remove language he found to be unconstitutional and still leave the basic ordinance intact.
In the court order issuing the injunction, Judge Lindsay criticized the ordinance for using Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines to determine eligibility for federal housing assistance as acceptable documents showing eligibility to rent an apartment in Farmers Branch.
The court also rejected the city's argument that the ordinance was merely a record-keeping system intended to assist the federal government in enforcing immigration law.
Mr. O'Hare and Mr. Robinson said the decision to bring Strasburger & Price on board was the firm's experience in appeals court. They believe the city will lose at trial.
“Wouldn't you, after reading Judge Lindsay's ruling?” Mr. Robinson said. “He didn't stutter. I don't think a trial is going to change his mind.”
“Do I agree with the things the judge has picked apart? No, I do not,” Mr. O'Hare said. “I think the judge is wrong.”
Strasburger & Price lists appellate law as one of its many specialties, but does not list constitutional law. The firm also lists immigration law, but according to its Web site, most of its experience is in helping individuals and companies with immigrant visas and permanent resident status matters, naturalization and citizenship services and assisting businesses with immigration compliance matters.
Farmers Branch legal fees:
$438,613: Amount the city has spent to date on legal costs associated with the anti-illegal immigrant measure
$424,000: Budget for legal expenses for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30
$424,000: Budget for legal expenses for the upcoming fiscal year
$39,448: Donations received by the city's legal defense fund
Archive: Farmers Branch immigration dispute