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Area Businesses File Lawsuit Against City of Springfield About E-verify Ordinance

The City of Springfield has agreed to a preliminary injunction in a joint lawsuit filed by four area businesses.  The lawsuit challenges the legality of sections of the new E-verify ordinance, passed by voters on February 7ththis year.  KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann talked with people on both sides of the issue, and has this report.

This preliminary injunction stops any immediate enforcement of the ordinance, which had been scheduled to begin June 4th. Dan Wichmer is the attorney for the City of Springfield.  He says this lawsuit filed by several small businesses identifies problems with the ordinance as it is written.

“The city is charged with defending the ordinance passed by the voters. Even the sponsors of the ordinance, when they proposed it as an initiative, acknowledged that the civil fine portion was probably not valid.  And then with the subsequent Belt Decision, that made that part of it probably invalid, although we’re researching it.  I think what we’re going to end up with is, the city is going to defend an ordinance that, at places, we’re going to have to concede there may be some issues,” Wichmer says.

The Belt Decision he’s referring to was a court case about the red traffic light camera program.

Wichmer says that although parts of the ordinance may need to be reevaluated, that doesn’t mean the whole ordinance will be overturned. 

“What you’re arguing, is whether somebody is going to be harmed by implementation of a law, versus maintaining the status quo.  The city legal staff looked at those two issues and said, ‘well nobody is going to be harmed, because there is no harm going on right now.  And, if we fight it, and we lose, then that’s just more legal fees we will be obligated to pay later on,’” says Wichmer.

Wichmer says the preliminary injunction will allow time for the court to sort out what parts will stay and what parts will go. Wichmer says he anticipates a hearing on the merits of the ordinance to be held within the next 6 to 9 months.

Four businesses are participating in this lawsuit.  John Gentry is president for Positronic Industries, one of those businesses.  He says he doesn’t disagree with E-verify overall, but says he feels it’s better to address the problems with the ordinance early.

“Well first I have to say that I was a supporter of E-verify through the entire process.  Positronic Industries, we have been a filer and using E-verify for a number of years.  When I looked at the ordinance, it looked like it was going to have some problems.  After speaking to a lawyer, I realized that there were indeed some problems.  Since it was going to be litigated eventually, it would probably be better to litigate soon when the stakes are much lower,” Gentry says.

Stenger Management, LLC, is also participating in the lawsuit.  That company issued a statement saying that while it’s opposed to illegal workers taking job opportunities from American citizens, this ordinance punishes Springfield businesses with more government regulations.

That statement adds, quote, “The ordinance is too broad, all-encompassing and could affect every citizen of Springfield who pays any person for a service, whether they are operating a ‘formal’ business or not.”  End quote.

Stenger Management also objects to the fairness of the ordinance.  The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Oke-Thomas & Associates, Inc., and Joe Robles.

For KSMU News, I’m Theresa Bettmann.