Judge Orders Arizona To Pay $2M In Legal Fees Over Driver's Licenses For 'DREAMers'

Published: Tuesday, December 11, 2018 - 10:25am
Updated: Tuesday, December 11, 2018 - 3:59pm
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MARK BRODIE: Arizona will have to pay nearly $2 million in legal fees to the challengers a former Governor Jan Brewer's executive order to keep "DREAMers" from getting licenses to drive. The order was made yesterday by U.S. District Judge David Campbell who also agreed the challengers are owed other costs as well. For more on the story, we're joined now by Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services. Hello again, Howie.

HOWARD FISCHER: Good morning. I love it when lawyers fight.

BRODIE: So what was the judge's reasoning here? Why did he say that the challengers were entitled to this money?

FISCHER: Well, let's go back and understand what the challenge was about. Back in 2012, the Obama administration adopted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals saying that if you came here as a child and met certain other conditions you can stay without being deported and you can work. Well, Gov.  Brewer said; well, wait a second. We have a 1996 law that says you can only get a driver's license if your presence here is "authorized by federal law." And she argued that DACA, as an executive action, wasn't federal law and therefore she wasn't going to issue licenses to what are approximately now 31,000 dreamers in the state. That resulted in the lawsuit and the district judge; the federal court appeals court and even the U.S. Supreme Court essentially said no the state does not get to decide who is here legally. This of course took from 2012 to 2018. And, the judge, Campbell, after reviewing what happened in the case, said, yeah, the $2 million is justified in terms of legal fees and costs.

BRODIE: Now, obviously the wheels of justice can move slowly as this case proves. So, are we talking mostly legal fees? Are there any damages here as well, or is it just to cover the costs of attorneys?

FISCHER: Oh, there are no real damages. The whole purpose of the lawsuit was to get an order saying to the state you cannot deny someone a license solely because they are a DACA recipient, the DREAMer. And they did finally get the order, and the state has in fact been issuing those licenses now. So there aren't any damages per se, you know it would be hard to quantify well somebody didn't get to drive for six months until the order came in — it's hard to quantify that. This is strictly legal fees. And what the judge said is look we had the ACLU, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Immigration Law Center all spending a lot of time in court — again all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, and they are entitled to their legal fees because they did successfully challenged a state policy.

LAUREN GILGER: So former Gov. Jan Brewer, like you said, was the one to take on this cause. How has she reacted to this decision?

FISCHER: I think, in a single term, that she gave me she said It's outrageous. She still believes that she's right. Obviously as she points out she's not the one with the black robe. And she's of course she's in no position to challenge that. That of course leads us to this second lawsuit that still pending. When the state was trying to defend its first denial, they said well we're not going to allow any Deferred Action recipients to get licenses — people who were getting before like victims of domestic violence. That resulted in the second lawsuit by some of these people, who are not covered by the first lawsuit, to in fact be allowed licenses. That one is against Gov. Ducey. — he's lost the first round on that district court that's now up the Ninth Circuit. And, while we're still looking for current figures that one has already cost the state in its own legal fees over $200,000. And of course if the state loses it's going to be on the hook for legal fees there. At this point, Gov. Ducey seems inclined to keep pursuing this no matter the outcome of the earlier case. So, Arizona taxpayers could be on the hook for a lot more.

BRODIE: Yes, so Howie, talk about the money for a minute and where exactly it comes from. I mean $2 million in the scope of a nearly $10 billion budget is not the biggest thing in the world. But, it's also not an insignificant amount of money. Does this potentially mean that there are other priorities that lawmakers the governor might like to fund that they won't be able to because they have to pay these legal fees?

FISCHER: Well, this is a little tricky. The state is self-insured for these kinds of activities. So there has been a sort of sinking fund if you want to call it that where money has been put aside. I don't think it's anywhere near that. But, I think as you point out $2 million isn't much. I mean remember you know the story we talked about yesterday, where we're arguing over a $32 registration fee and that's to raise $185 million. So, I won't say its cushions — the coins in the cushions of the couch — but it pretty much come down to that, certainly for the state. Now for the plaintiffs, who now have $2 million in their pockets, they can pursue other cases that they say deal with the rights of immigrants and Latinos.

BRODIE: All right. That's Howie Fischer of Capital Media Services. As always, Howie, thank you.

FISCHER: And, we'll be talking again the next time the state loses a lawsuit. 

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