A Dallas suburb facing lawsuits for trying to ban home rentals to illegal immigrants hasn't turned over all the documents in the case despite a court order, a judge found Wednesday as he appointed himself to oversee production of the materials.
District Court Judge Bruce Priddy also found the city failed to retain documents it was required to keep.
He sanctioned the city of Farmers Branch by deciding to hire a firm that specializes in retrieving electronic information and requiring the city to pay for the costs.
"It is an indication, frankly of how egregious the situation is in a case that's about ... the city's failure to keep the public business in a public light," said attorney Bill Brewer, who is handling several lawsuits opposing Farmers Branch's ordinance.
The information was requested as part of a lawsuit alleging officials at the city of Farmers Branch violated the Texas Open Meetings Act when they drafted and approved the rental rule. It is one of several state and federal suits Farmers Branch has faced in a battle that's already lasted for nearly two years over measures attempting to keep illegal immigrants from living in the city.
A call for the attorney who represented Farmers Branch in Wednesday's hearing was not immediately returned. Attorneys for the city have previously said Farmers Branch has fully complied with the court's orders.
During a hearing Wednesday, the city acknowledged it had deleted the e-mail files of city officials and staffers who no longer work for Farmers Branch. The mayor, several council members and the city manager have been replaced since Farmers Branch first approved measures targeting illegal immigrants and was sued.
The hearing was in response to a motion by attorneys for opponents of the rental ban asking the judge to sanction Farmers Branch and compel the city's lawyers to provide officials' e-mails and other records on the immigration-related rule.
The motion contended attorneys for Farmers Branch have refused to use search terms such as "illegals," "landlords," "apartment," or "license," which would have yielded more electronic documents regarding how the ordinance was drafted, discussed and approved.
It also accused Farmers Branch of heavily redacting invoices, including blocking out names of some of the people with whom attorneys spoke, and failing to turn over documents and legal fees from other attorneys involved in lawsuits over the rental ordinance.
Farmers Branch can't currently enforce its housing ordinance. A federal judge halted the rule from taking effect. The city later agreed to an injunction preventing it from enforcing the rule while it is challenged in federal court.