A legal defense fund established by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer in May to help Arizona fend off lawsuits challenging its controversial immigration enforcement law has received donations totalling $3.6 million from about 41,000 sympathizers across the country. The sum is well more than the $440,000 known to have been spent defending the law so far.
The Arizona immigration law, which critics say will lead to racial profiling, is facing several lawsuits, including one from the US Department of Justice, and the cost to defend it could reach several million dollars, legal experts say. The defense fund received a significant boost from one contributor, a Wyoming resident who donated $1.5 million in mid-August, Gov. Brewer disclosed recently.
The figure of $440,000 represents the defense costs for the first two months of legal challenges, but the documents from the governor's office extend through June and do not cover July court hearings before federal Judge Susan Bolton, who blocked implementation of key elements of the law. Brewer’s appeal is now at the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Although the governor’s office has no estimates on total legal expenses that might be incurred, Brewer’s spokesman, Paul Senseman, says the state’s mounting legal costs are expected to be considerable. The legal work so far is massive, Mr. Senseman says, citing 900 legal filings in the lawsuits that total about 12,000 pages.
“It’s impossible to accurately estimate because there are so many variables involved, including when and how federal judges rule, what appeals may be undertaken, the length of the appeals,” he says.
Paul Bender, a law professor at Arizona State University, concurs with Senseman and says legal costs will skyrocket quickly especially if the battle over the law lands in the US Supreme Court. The professor says he wouldn’t be surprised if expenses, mostly in attorney’s fees, reach $10 million.
“If you hire a big law firm to work on a case like this and they charge you on an hourly basis the amounts can become quite large very quickly,” he says.
The private attorneys working for Arizona are billing Brewer adjusted hourly rates that vary from $225 to $450 per hour, according to the firm’s contract with the state.
Brewer hired Snell & Wilmer LLC, a corporate law firm based in Phoenix, to defend the state’s right to enforce the legislation after a running dispute over the law with Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat who opposes the law and is challenging her in the November election. Mr. Goddard eventually withdrew from representing the state in court.
As long as donations keep rolling in, state taxpayers are off the hook. The governor’s office has not released information on the potential use of public dollars when and if the fund dries up. So far the fund “has been sufficient to provide payment for these legal bills,” Senseman says.
The next-largest contribution after the $1.5 million donation from Timothy Mellon of Saratoga, Wyo., totals $5,000. Many contributions made online or sent by mail are $20, $50, $100 and higher. Donations to the fund surged after the Obama administration filed its suit and exemplify the kind of strong support the law has garnered nationwide.
One of those supporters is Arizona retiree Gary Piekaar, who lives in Havasu City. He chipped in $50 this week to Brewer’s defense fund out of frustration with illegal immigration overall and the federal government’s legal challenge to the state law.
“The federal government should be funding it, not fighting it,” he says.