McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The organization that crowdsourced millions of dollars from public donations to build a private border wall in South Texas told a Texas court on Thursday that they don’t have funds to pay a local lawyer in a pending civil lawsuit relating to the private border wall.
“The essence of it is that We Build The Wall has very limited funds right now to bring the ledger up to balance or close to balance,” Kris Kobach, Kansas’ former secretary of state, general counsel for the organization, told U.S. District Judge Randy Crane during a video status conference hearing Thursday morning in the U.S. District Court Southern District of Texas Court in McAllen. The hearing was held via Zoom online due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
McAllen lawyer David Oliveira told Crane that his law firm has not been paid for over a year for legal services affiliated with a civil lawsuit brought by the North American Butterfly Association against We Build The Wall and other organizations that built 3.5 miles of border wall on private land along the banks of the Rio Grande south of Mission, Texas, adjacent to the National Butterfly Center.
Crane granted Oliveira’s firm’s request to be withdrawn from the case and gave We Build The Wall 30 days to find new legal counsel.
The controversial organization, which is the subject of other lawsuits, had asked Crane for 90 days to find a new lawyer.
“It might be expensive and few of us have the assets right now to cover a retainer. So we are willing to let counsel step aside but we would like a fairly generous bit of time to find local counsel and also perhaps have a picture of what it involves,” Kobach said.
But during the quick, 6-minute hearing, Crane retorted: “This case just keeps getting delayed and delayed; 90 days seems like a long time.”
“Finding a lawyer I don’t think is a big problem. I think finding a lawyer who is willing to risk not getting paid is probably the issue here,” Crane said.
And he warned that the case is scheduled to begin jury selection on Feb. 8, 2022, and he intends for it to stay on schedule.
“If nobody is representing them the case will continue without representation, which can mean really bad things,” Crane said. “So I hope you’ll be diligent in trying to find counsel that will represent them.”
The Butterfly Association lawsuit was filed in late 2019 originally in state district court in Edinburg, Texas, and alleges that construction on the flood plain and on the international waterway violates the United States’ 1970 water treaty with Mexico, and could damage the river bank by causing water to deflect, which could damage neighboring properties, including the National Butterfly Center which is located a half-mile away on the riverbank.
It is similar to a federal lawsuit against these same defendants that was filed in Crane’s court by the federal government and so the Butterfly case was soon after remanded to Crane’s court where he has heard several motions over the years as it inches toward a jury trial slated to begin Feb. 8.
The Butterfly Center lawsuit also alleges defamation against Butterfly Center Executive Marianna Treviño-Wright by We Build The Wall founder Brian Kolfage.
After the hearing, Treviño-Wright called Thursday’s proceedings “ludicrous.” She accused We Build The Wall of delaying tactics that have prevented her side, the plaintiffs, from receiving the majority of necessary discovery information that they need before going to trial.
“Thirty days from now they’re still going to have no counsel and they’re still going to be saying ‘we have no money,'” Treviño-Wright told Border Report. “We are hamstrung. It’s deliberate.”
“They are bleeding us dry to keep making us spend money and spend money and spend money and then if he holds fast to that trial date we will have never been able to conduct discovery or depositions,” she said.
Jeffrey Glassberg, president and founder of the North American Butterfly Association, a nonprofit organization that has been at the forefront of the battle against the seizure of private property for border wall construction, has called the structure “a man-made threat.” They contend it was not properly built on levees maintained by the International Boundary and Water Commission and is a flood risk to the area.
The federal government also has filed a lawsuit against We Build The Wall, Kolfage, as well as the builder, Tommy Fisher, relating to the private border wall.
We Build The Wall crowdsourced to raise an estimated $25 million in public donations, which the organization touted would go to the building of the private border wall. But in August 2020, federal criminal indictments were leveled against Kolfage, Steve Bannon, a former chief strategist to former President Donald Trump, and three associates of We Build the Wall. They were charged in a New York court with taking from the donated funds and using fake invoices and sham vendor arrangements to pay themselves.
The organization’s assets were frozen and on June 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied a request to unfreeze some of the funds.
Treviño-Wright told Border Report that during testimony in that case they indicated that they do have some funds. And she questions now why they won’t use that money to pay lawyers in the South Texas case.
“His lawyers testified they do have money and they do have accounts not subject to the restraining order,” Treviño-Wright said. “And they have continued to receive donations since their indictments.”
“The whole thing is ludicrous,” she said.
Border Report has reached out to Kolfage for comment. This story will be updated if more information is received.