June 07, 2007
Restraining order extended in Farmers Branch

Still no decision on an injunction, but we're getting there.

A temporary restraining order granted last month will remain in effect until June 19, U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay ruled.

Lindsay will decide by then whether to issue a temporary injunction requested by lawyers for landlords and renters who have filed suit to block the local immigration measure. An injunction would stop the rental rules from taking effect until the lawsuits are resolved.


[D]uring a three-hour hearing today, Farmers Branch attorneys who are already facing an uphill legal fight following the earlier ruling by Lindsay acknowledged there were "drafting issues" with the ordinance.

City Attorney Matthew Boyle sought to convince Lindsay that the city intended to follow federal law in determining who is in the country legally and had no intention of going outside federal regulations, even if some language in the ordinance suggests otherwise.

He offered the court several revised versions that they asked the judge to consider if he decides the original measure is constitutionally flawed.

The Star Telegram outlines the changes the city of Farmers Branch has offered.

One version drops the $500 daily penalty. It would also drop the requirements that family members of prospective tenants sign declarations of citizenship or legal residency and authorize the release of relevant documents to city officials. Prospective tenants would still be required to sign such a declaration but would not be required to supply supporting paperwork.

Another version drops the $500 daily penalty and the requirement that prospective tenants sign the declaration. But it leaves a requirement for supplying paperwork acceptable to federal immigration officials.

Another version simply cuts references to U.S. Housing and Urban Development's prohibition on providing housing to illegal immigrants.

Boyle and Tim O'Hare, the City Council member who spearheaded the city's anti-illegal-immigration stance, said the proposed revisions do not mean the city is backing down from the ordinance.

O'Hare said that the city believes the ordinance is constitutional but that the judge could use these alternatives if he finds parts of it to be unconstitutional. He said even if the $500 fines are dropped, the city could pursue people who give false paperwork or false declarations and charge them with fraud.

Boyle said the city also could revoke licenses instead of levying fines.

O'Hare suggested the proposed cuts might be part of the city's legal strategy.

"You throw different things out there, and it's a long, drawn-out battle," he said. "You float things out there to see where the judge stands on one issue or another issue."

Jim Renard, an attorney for Bickel & Brewer, a Dallas law firm representing apartment owners suing Farmers Branch, interpreted the move as a sign that the city is losing the case.

"It's an admission of sorts that they've got some problems," Renard said.

I think Attorney Renard is correct. If Farmers Branch thought it could win, there'd be no incentive for them to offer a weaker version of the law. They're in salvage mode.

Nina Perales, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is also suing the city, said asking the judge to choose what should be stricken from the city's ordinance is wrong.

"That's not an appropriate thing for a judge to do," she said. "The judge decides what is constitutional and what is unconstitutional. The judge does not rewrite ordinances."

Yeah, that kinda does sound like legislating from the bench, doesn't it? Nice try, fellas.

Back to the Chron:

In rulings last week, Lindsay declined an effort by the Federation for American Immigration Reform to join the lawsuit. The national group wants to stem illegal immigration.

The judge also dismissed one of three federal lawsuits against the city, a suit brought by Farmers Branch businesses who said the rental ban was hurting commerce.

"This narrows the constitutional issues," said activist Carlos Quintanilla, who organized the businesses' opposition.

And I think it means we're officially counting the days on this ordinance. We'll see if that's true in two weeks' time. Stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 07, 2007 to National news