After much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the past several months, and despite the impassioned efforts of local and national Hispanic leaders, the controversial new anti-illegal immigration law took effect in Oklahoma last week.
And what the federal court hearing on the incipient bill lacked ostensively in drama, it made up for in suspense as a standing-room-only crowd of local and national Hispanic leaders, anti-illegal immigration advocates, reporters and other observers packed into the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge James Payne, waiting hours for him to render his decision prior to the law's taking effect on Nov. 1.
His decision was to deny the petition of the National Coalition of Latin Evangelical Clergy and Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC) and other plaintiffs for a temporary injunction against House Bill 1804 taking effect.
At the time of this writing, the accompanying lawsuit was still pending, so the battle wasn't quite over yet, but if Payne's reasons for dismissing the restraining order are any indication, whatever legal combat remains is merely a formality.
One of the criteria needed to justify the injunction was "a substantial likelihood of the lawsuit's success on its merits," which was the only criterion argued by Rohit Sharma and William Sanchez, the two attorneys representing CONLAMIC and the other plaintiffs.
It didn't meet that criterion in Payne's view.
Little more than a week before, the judge had dismissed an initial lawsuit by the group because, he said, there were no actual injuries claimed with any causal relationship to HB 1804.
He told them that "the public interest would best be served by a sharpening of the issues presented" by plaintiffs with "well-defined injuries causally connected to HB 1804."
(For an overview of the injuries claimed, see "Como Se Dice: Pogrom? Holocaust?" in the Oct. 25 issue of UTW at www.urbantulsa.com.)
As the Rev. Victor Orta, state coordinator for CONLAMIC, explained to UTW when the amended lawsuit was filed, that "sharpening of the issues presented" was accomplished through more plaintiffs and more documentation of the injuries suffered, such as eviction notices from landlords who were afraid to rent to illegal immigrants because of the impending HB 1804.
While Orta and others were confident that the second time would be the charm, events would unfold that would require a further "sharpening" of the lawsuit before last week's hearing.
A representative of one of the plaintiffs in the initial lawsuit only learned of his involvement by reading about it in the aforementioned Urban Tulsa Weekly article.
"I saw my restaurant's name in the paper, and I don't like what I read," said Jose Ramirez, manager and spokesman for Mexico Lindo Restaurants, minutes after reading the article.
He told UTW, and several other media outlets later, that neither he nor the owner of the Mexico Lindo restaurant chain wanted to be in the lawsuit and that they do not hire illegal immigrants.
He said, because his understanding of English isn't very strong, he didn't understand what Orta was talking about when he called to recruit him as a plaintiff (see last week's "They're Baaaack! at www.urbantulsa.com).
Since that conversation, sources close to Mexico Lindo and Orta have indicated that no representative of the restaurant chain signed an affidavit, but it was included in the suit because of an unwritten "understanding" that they were willing to sue the state of Oklahoma.
Because of the Mexico Lindo development, as well as the addition of more plaintiffs, some last minute changes had to be made to the lawsuit--changes made while Oklahoma Assistant Attorney General Daniel Weitman was driving from Oklahoma City to defend the state in the Tulsa courtroom.
Weitman called the last minute changes "bad faith litigation conduct" on the parts of the CONLAMIC lawyers, because, he said, he had no time to prepare.
Also, the changes delayed the hearing by more than an hour, which gave Orta the opportunity to make some brief comments to supporters waiting in the audience.
As he spoke on the strength of his and other plaintiffs' claims, assuring members of the Hispanic community gathered in the courtroom, a member of the audience interjected, "Isn't that the judge's job?"
After a few face-saving comments, Orta sat back down.
Payne issued his order and opinion dismissing the motion for a preliminary injunction against HB 1804 later that evening.
He gave Weitman six days to prepare the state of Oklahoma's motion for dismissal of the amended lawsuit.
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