The legal bill for Pembroke Pines to take a stand against a proposed federal detention center in neighboring Southwest Ranches is $122,000 since September, and growing.
At least three different law firms are working on the citys behalf to oppose the planned U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement holding facility, and collectively their attorneys have logged dozens of hours in meetings, performing legal research, and reviewing and preparing documents.
But attorneys fees, at a rate of $185 to $225 per hour, are just a fraction of the citys potential liabilities.
Pembroke Pines could be on the hook for much more potentially millions if the city does not prevail in a federal lawsuit filed by Corrections Corporation of America, the private prison contractor bidding to bring the federal detention center to Southwest Ranches.
CCA filed the lawsuit in March, one day after Pembroke Pines commissioners voted to cancel a contract to provide fire-rescue, emergency medical, water and sewer services to the facility, which would be one of the nations largest with at least 1,500 beds and 500,000-square-feet of space.
That same night the commission also voted to hire Orlando attorney Usher L. Brown to file a lawsuit against CCA in state court seeking a declaratory judgment, or a judges ruling, that would resolve the question of whether Pembroke Pines is legally required to provide water and sewer service to the proposed detention center.
But CCA beat the city to the punch. The next morning, the company filed a lawsuit against Pembroke Pines in federal court preempting the citys lawsuit, and rendering it moot until the outcome of the federal case.
CCAs lawsuit asks a judge to order Pembroke Pines to cease attempts to block the proposed detention center, and to provide water and sewer service to the facility.
The lawsuit also asks that Pembroke Pines pay CCA for any profits the company loses as a result of the citys efforts to block the facility from being built.
Steve Owen, a CCA spokesman, said the company was forced into litigation after Pembroke Pines commissioners voted to file a lawsuit first.
We had no plans to sue Pembroke Pines, he said, and we reluctantly filed the litigation only after Pembroke Pines voted to sue CCA. ... It was a decision that they made as opposed to hiring a mediator or a negotiator. They started down this path. That was their decision.
ICE has yet to announce the selection of Southwest Ranches as the site, but agency officials have indicated in meetings with residents and correspondence with local officials that they are looking closely at the Broward municipality as their preferred option.
The detention center would be located on about 24 acres owned by CCA in Southwest Ranches but surrounded almost entirely by Pembroke Pines.
All five of Pembroke Pines commissioners have publicly expressed their opposition to the facilitys location, but their votes related to the detention center have not always been unanimous.
They voted together to file the lawsuit against CCA in March, and to send a letter to President Barack Obama in January asking him to intervene in the selection of a site. The White House has yet to reply.
But the commissions vote was split 3-2 on the question of cancelling the water and sewer service contract in March.