Braun & Gresham Attorney Patrick Reznik was recently asked for input and quoted for an article in the Houston Chronicle published on Wednesday. The U.S. Justice Department is in need of lawyers to fight the expected flood of border wall lawsuits. On the opposing side, Patrick intends to represent the landowners and ensure they receive fair compensation and terms for the land the government will acquire through condemnation. See the full article below:
Justice Department needs lawyers to fight expected flood of border wall lawsuits
By Gabrielle Banks of the Houston Chronicle
The Justice Department is seeking to fill more than 50 staff slots at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Southeast Texas, including seven lawyers to represent the United States, in an anticipated onslaught of civil challenges to President Donald Trump’s plan to build a “wall” along the country’s 1,989-mile southern border.
“SDTX is (in) the middle of the largest hiring program in our history,” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick announced July 12 on Twitter, using the acronym for the Southern District of Texas, which prosecutes the bulk of the nation’s immigration cases and handles one of the busiest criminal dockets in the country. Patrick encouraged new talent to put in applications for the 14-month positions, saying, “Less than 2 years of experience? Perfect!”
The work has not landed yet, since Trump has not secured the bulk of the funding for the $1.3 trillion border wall project. The seven attorney positions in the unit’s McAllen and Brownsville offices have been designated for lawyers to handle civil lawsuits against the government on a range of issues, however. The jobs may be extended beyond 14 months, according to Patrick’s spokeswoman Angela Dodge. The other positions have been set aside to handle immigration cases, prosecution of violent crime and other matters, she said.
Patrick’s predecessor, Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez, told the Houston Chronicle last year that there were hundreds of condemnation lawsuits left over from President George W. Bush’s presidency, brought by landowners and businesses that owned property along the border. Using leftover funds from the Secure Fence Act of 2006, the office whittled the backlog to about 70 lawsuits by 2017, but Martinez said he expected there would be hundreds more under Trump.
Congress has approved 33 miles of new border wall at a cost of $641 million. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of identifying landowners and already has sent out more than 200 “right of entry” letters, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.
“There’s a plan for the uptick, but there has not been an uptick in filings as of yet,” said Patrick Reznik, of the Braun & Gresham law firm in Dripping Springs, outside Austin, who has been handling condemnation cases in Texas for 12 years. “They’re putting their people in place because they know that attorneys like me will be fighting these hard on behalf of landowners.”
He said he anticipated there could be hundreds of lawsuits should money for border walls, fencing and barriers be appropriated in Washington.
Although the Trump cases have not begun, Reznik said, “The Bush-era border wall cases have resurged as the Trump administration has begun advocating for completing additional sections of the wall.”
Many of the civil matters involving the border barrier are eminent domain cases, in which the Justice Department tries to negotiate a fair price for land that is sometimes a mile or more north of the Rio Grande. If landowners do not want to sell the property to the federal government or if the parties can arrive at a reasonable settlement, the Justice Department can do what’s called a “quick take” and have the Army Corps condemn the property and take it over, Reznik said. In those cases, the landowners often sue the federal government to preserve their ownership or secure a better price. Most of those matters call for extensive input from experts who valuate the property.
Dodge said some of the other staff openings in the U.S. Attorney’s Office are vacancies left by staff departures in recent years that officials were unable to fill due to a hiring freeze. She said the office has been working to put lawyers in place in as many of those positions as possible and hire in advance to replace staff who have given retirement notices.