SAN ANTONIO – The City of San Antonio has now spent more than $2.75 million in outside attorney fees to fight a sanctuary cities lawsuit filed by the state against Chief William McManus, the police department and the city, records obtained by KSAT 12 Defenders show.
The suit, filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in Travis County district court in late 2018, accuses McManus and other city officials of flouting a new state law, Senate Bill 4, that requires local governments to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
City Attorney Andy Segovia this month defended the decision to so far not settle the case.
Records confirm as of Jan. 13, the city had paid $2,750,242.56 to outside counsel, an average of more than $100,000 a month since the suit was filed.
The suit claims McManus limited the enforcement of federal immigration laws in December 2017, when he made the decision to release 12 suspected undocumented immigrants found inside a tractor-trailer on the East Side, instead of handing them over to federal immigration officials.
An amended petition filed by the AG in October claims that San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg instructed city staff not to contact federal authorities as the incident played out.
The filing claims high-ranking city officials were told “the Mayor does not want ICE called,” and that Nirenberg later described their release without being handed over to federal immigration officials as a “Christmas gift” for their families.
Nirenberg, through a spokesman, has declined multiple requests for an interview about his alleged role in the case and has referred the Defenders’ inquiries to the city attorney’s office.
City officials have repeatedly refused in recent months to make Segovia available for an interview about the suit.
Through a city spokesman, Segovia instead released the following statement earlier this month regarding the mounting attorney fees:
While many disputes and even enforcement actions are settled pre-litigation, AG Paxton did not give the City an opportunity for early resolution. Instead, he sued. Over the course of this litigation, the AG has expanded his allegations dramatically and has increased from one to three the causes of action for which he is seeking penalties of at least $25,500 per day—from September 2, 2017 to the present day. These causes of action are groundless. I know of no entity that would simply concede liability under the circumstances or pay the crippling penalties that the AG seeks. Many factors affect analysis and approach in complex litigation. The cost of defense as compared with potential monetary exposure is an important one. Another important one is how litigation outcomes could affect the City’s reputation, as well as its financial ratings, eligibility for grants, and potential further claims. No entity should be faulted for defending against allegations and penalty pursuits like the ones in this case.Andy Segovia, San Antonio City Attorney
Where does the lawsuit stand?
The lawsuit, the state’s first attempt at enforcing SB 4, is now in its 27th month of existence.
Segovia, during an interview with the Defenders in the spring of 2019, said he believed it would take between a year and 18 months to resolve the legal dispute.
City officials earlier this year said the timeline he gave during the previous interview was a “very rough estimate.”
The city was able to get a judge to dismiss portions of the suit in the summer of 2019, but court records show the rest of the case remains active.
Depositions were still being gathered as recently as early this month, court records confirm.
Besides seeking civil penalties, the AG suit is also attempting to get the court to prohibit SAPD from enforcing portions of its general manual related to immigration, according to records.
Records show the city was billed more than a quarter-million dollars in the first several months after the suit was filed by an Austin-based law firm assisting with the litigation.
City officials have not said if any other law firms have been hired to defend the city in the suit, and the release of records did not include a breakdown of invoices.
The driver of the tractor-trailer, Herbert Nichols, was taken into custody at the scene and charged under a seldom-used state smuggling of persons statute.
Nichols was given probation in the case in May 2019, according to court records.