Pines Mayor Frank Ortis said the specter of runaway legal costs deterred him from voting with the majority.
I knew there would be numerous lawsuits, said Ortis. Who knows how much its going to cost. It could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, eventually.
So far, Pembroke Pines has paid legal fees to city attorney Sam Goren, who is contracted at a rate of $185 per hour; and two independent attorneys representing the city in separate lawsuits stemming from the proposed detention center: Brown, who provided legal opinions and filed a lawsuit against CCA in state court on the citys behalf; and E. Bruce Johnson of Fort Lauderdale, the lead attorney defending Pembroke Pines against CCAs federal lawsuit.
Brown bills at a rate of $225 per hour, and the city has paid his firm a total of $57,709 since February, including $34,251.50 in fees and $1,512.65 in costs to file the state lawsuit.
Its unknown how much Johnson charges. Goren said Johnsons legal fees are initially payable by Pembroke Pines, up to the city reaching a cap of about $100,000 for all claims.
After the city reaches that cap, Johnsons fees were to be paid by the citys insurance carrier, ACE North American Professional Risk Claims.
But on May 8, ACE sent the city a letter saying coverage does not apply to any liability arising out of the complete or partial failure to adequately supply gas, oil, water, electricity, steam or sewerage service.
Goren said Pembroke Pines officials have not yet decided whether to challenge the insurers decision and are still reviewing their next step.
Gorens work on the detention center issue dates back to June 2011, when he billed the city for work on the contract to provide fire, emergency medical, water and sewer service to Southwest Ranches and the proposed facility. According to the contract, Southwest Ranches would pay Pembroke Pines $2.5 million annually to provide those services.
That same month, Pembroke Pines commissioners unanimously approved the contract.
But by August, as word spread of the potential federal detention center, residents began to hold street protests and attend commission meetings to demand the facility be located elsewhere.
In response, Pines commissioners voted in December to hire an independent attorney Brown to provide a second opinion about the citys legal requirement to provide water and sewer service to the proposed detention center.
Commissioners paid for the second opinion despite the fact that Goren already had issued two memorandums saying the city risked significant legal liabilities if commissioners were to cancel water and sewer service to the facility.
To do so, Goren wrote, will subject the city to an assertion of liability on claims of breach of contract, damages based on reliance, and constitutional equal protection claims.
Whats more, Goren noted, the CCA-owned property has been approved for development as a prison since 2005, and the city already provides utilities to multiple clients in the immediate vicinity, including the Broward Correctional Institute, a state prison for women; the countys Southwest Regional Landfill; and Bergeron Industrial Park.
Still, Brown contradicted Gorens opinion, and suggested the city could cancel the services without suffering legal consequences. He also suggested Pembroke Pines file the lawsuit against CCA seeking declaratory judgment.