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El Paso County Commissioners deny DA’s request to pay his legal expenses in lawsuit over Texas’ new border enforcement law

District Attorney Bill Hicks requested $100,000 from the El Paso County Commissioners Court to cover legal expenses in the county's lawsuit against Senate Bill 4, Texas' new border enforcement law.
Aaron J. Montes / KTEP News
District Attorney Bill Hicks requested $100,000 from the El Paso County Commissioners Court to cover legal expenses in the county's lawsuit against Senate Bill 4, Texas' new border enforcement law.

El Paso, TEXAS (KTEP) - The El Paso County Commissioners Court denied District Attorney Bill Hicks’ request to cover $100,000 in legal expenses for the county’s lawsuit challenging a new border enforcement law in Texas.

Hicks is a defendant in the lawsuit along with Texas Department of Public Safety director Steven McCraw. The two are being sued by El Paso County along with the ACLU of Texas, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and other immigrant rights groups.

“I would like to encourage him (Hicks) to seek funding in whatever capacity, whether in his own budget, or other grants,” County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said. “I would also encourage that he support our SB 4 (lawsuit).

County officials said Hicks is a defendant in the lawsuit because the district attorney’s office will be responsible for prosecuting cases related to the new border enforcement law.

County commissioners, all Democrats, asked Hicks during a January 29 meeting why he did not get assistance from Gov. Greg Abbott or Attorney General Ken Paxton.

“I do not feel the attorney general’s office has the appropriate representation of me, I feel that my defense is a different defense than that of the Attorney General’s Office,” Hicks said.

The governor appointed Hicks, also a republican, to serve as DA after the previous DA resigned in 2022. Hicks said the Governor’s Office was not going to pay for his legal defense and directed him to Paxton’s office to represent him in court. Hicks said he rejected that offer.

“The only thing I am an advocate for, is my ability to exercise my prosecutorial discretion,” Hicks said. “I am not an advocate for legislation that has been passed. That’s a part of the legislature. They are advocates for their laws that they have passed.”

Hicks also said he would research whether he could be reimbursed for legal costs through Abbott’s border enforcement initiative Operation Lone Star.

Precinct 4 commissioner Sergio Coronado, an attorney, asked “Shouldn’t your attorney that represents you, represent your position and not somebody else’s?”

Hicks responded “While that would be ideal, commissioner, I have an ability to direct local counsel, that I would not have that same ability on a phone every day with someone I do not know in Austin.”

The lawsuit over SB4 filed in December challenges the constitutionality of the border enforcement law that empowers the state to arrest anyone they suspect crossed the border illegally.

“Congress placed all of the relevant tools and decision-making in the hands of federal officials - in keeping with the federal government’s exclusive immigration powers and the sensitive foreign policy implications of these powers,” the lawsuit states.

County officials also anticipate the law would result in an additional 8,000 arrests per year, requiring an increase of $25 million a year to expand jail space and another $162 million for jail housing, according to the lawsuit.

Hicks said his office does not have civil attorneys who specialize in federal court and he needs someone who has that expertise to represent him. And, that he cannot ignore the lawsuit as a defendant without being held in contempt of court and fined.

“Things can get very bad if we say the wrong thing,” Hicks said. “We can put ourselves in a place where we’re incurring liability on the county without an intent to incur liability.”

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