Is the light beginning to dawn on Farmers Branch?

Could be.

Farmers Branch officials are backing away from vows to go as far as the U.S. Supreme Court to defend a voter-approved ban on apartment rentals to illegal immigrants.

The city instead is relying on a replacement ordinance designed to prevent rentals of houses, as well as apartments, to anyone who is in the country unlawfully.

“Basically,” City Manager Gary Greer said, “I looked at as much information as I possibly could — at the way the ordinance has been seen by the court, the fact that it was voted on by the people and passed, the things I’ve heard from our policymakers.

“And I looked at where we were financially in regards to all these court battles.”

Amazing what a little cold economic reality can accomplish, isn’t it? Apparently some things aren’t such a matter of principle after all.

“I’ve been saying since the very first day that it was unconstitutional, that it would be expensive, divisive and would never go into effect,” resident Christopher McGuire said. “I haven’t changed my tune for more than two years.”

Mayor Tim O’Hare, who as a council member instigated the efforts to rid the city of illegal immigrants, said he hasn’t changed his tune, either.

“We still think it’s a constitutional ordinance,” said Mr. O’Hare, who had said both before and after the measure’s overwhelming approval in a May 2007 election that officials would defend it to the high court if necessary. “But economic times have changed with the economy the way it is. We still feel like we’re carrying out the will of the people of our city, pursuing 2952.”

In some sense that’s true, given the election result from last year. It’s just that now there’s a limit on how far they’ll go to carry out that will, which presumably weakened as the legal bills mounted. Speaking of which:

On Friday, attorneys for Bickel & Brewer Storefront, which represented one group of plaintiffs in the case, submitted a bill for $480,000. Later the same day, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which represented other plaintiffs, submitted a request for $444,406 in attorney fees and court costs.

That brings the total in legal costs being billed to the city from the groups that filed the lawsuit to $924,406, though Mr. Greer said the city would challenge the amounts.

“I can tell you their requests are ridiculous,” he said. “Absolutely, we will challenge every dollar they have presented. And we won’t quit until we get a fair determination of the costs.”

The amounts requested by the plaintiffs’ attorneys are in addition to more than $924,000 the city has spent to defend its series of three rental ban ordinances — a version approved by the council in 2006 but repealed in early 2007, Ordinance 2903 and, now, Ordinance 2952.

My heart bleeds for you, fellas. While you’re pursuing your claim against the plaintiffs’ attorneys, the ones who have kicked your butts in court so far, I’ll be thinking up better ways for you to have spent the money. Not that this is a hard task, given that putting it all into WaMu stock would have been a superior idea.

At least the next round of lawsuits should take less time and therefore be less expensive, according to a story from last week.

U.S. District Court Judge Jane Boyle on Monday agreed to a proposal from the city and the attorneys for one group of plaintiffs that will see the case come to trial, if necessary, by December.

With the judge’s approval of that schedule, a temporary restraining order issued 10 days ago has been converted to a preliminary injunction – meaning the city will not enforce its ordinance until the trial is completed.

Another group of plaintiffs opposed the agreement. Nina Perales, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said her organization is involved in similar court actions across the country and needs more time to prepare.

But Judge Boyle, who consolidated the two suits, said that if the city is willing to delay enforcing the ordinance to move things along, she is agreeable to the expedited schedule. She encouraged the attorneys to work together to speed up the trial process.

The deadline for motions is October 29, with both sides agreeing to get it on in court no later than December 8. And hopefully not too long after that, we’ll finally have an end to this travesty.

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