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Bill Brewer works in a high-rise office, wears fine suits and lives in a Dallas mansion with nine bathrooms and six fireplaces -- the rewards for a lawyer called driven, tireless and an attorney who got his start in the region using "Rambo-style" tactics in the courtroom.

While he has taken on some of the region's highest profile and most lucrative cases, he has a soft spot for what he views as the underdog, most recently illegal immigrants.

At no cost to his clients, the 55-year-old Brewer has thrown the huge resources of his firm, Bickel & Brewer, behind court battles with Farmers Branch and Irving, cities that have taken strong stances against illegal immigration.

He believes that Texas needs to be more inclusive given the state's inevitable future of a Hispanic majority.

"How we are going to treat each other in the next decade and really for the rest of our time, it's really an issue that everyone should be thinking about," he said. "It is inappropriate for Farmers Branch or any other municipal government to try to push people who are peaceably within their borders out of their community merely because they don't want them there."

He frustrates his opponents, who see him as a roadblock to the will of most residents. To his clients, he's a determined advocate for good causes.

"He's an incredible person. He's really accessible. Everybody that works with him can tell you that," said Guillermo Ramos, a plaintiff in one of the Farmers Branch cases. "Once he and his law firm get behind something ... they all seem to be united, they all seem to back each other."

Local controversies

Like many on his side of the immigration debate, Brewer skips over the distinction between legal and illegal immigration and refers to Farmers Branch's actions as anti-Hispanic.

Farmers Branch City Council members have repeatedly and emphatically said their actions are aimed at illegal immigrants, not Hispanics.

The council voted unanimously in 2006 to ban illegal immigrants from renting apartments in Farmers Branch, a decision voters overwhelmingly endorsed in May. But the city cannot enforce the ban because of lawsuits, including Brewer's, filed in federal court. Brewer's suit represents Farmers Branch apartment owners and says the ban should be scrapped because it places unfair burdens on apartment owners, who must verify whether tenants are legal U.S. residents. Brewer also argues that the federal government -- not local governments -- should enforce immigration laws.

In the case, filed in state court with Ramos as the plaintiff, Brewer says that the council broke the Texas Open Meetings Act by holding closed-door meetings before it voted for the rental ban.

More recently, Irving has made national news for its Criminal Alien Program. The program, which refers suspected illegal immigrants in the Irving Jail to federal immigration authorities, has resulted in the deportation of more than 1,700 people since it began in September 2006.

The program sparked large anti-deportation demonstrations in September and October in Irving. Brewer quickly followed with a lawsuit against Irving aimed at forcing the city to elect council members by districts rather than the current practice of electing council members citywide. The districts, if created, would help Hispanics have a better chance of winning seats, he said.

Irving Mayor Herbert Gears said he does not know Brewer but believes that the Dallas lawyer's vision for Irving is wrong. Gears said single-member districts would not guarantee minority council members.

"If you dig further into the numbers, turnout is low in minority communities in Irving," he said.

'Rambo' tactics

Brewer usually takes on cases for the rich -- he charges $1,050 an hour. He's won many multimillion dollar verdicts, including a $115 million judgment for a breach of an office tower lease agreement.

He grew up in New York where he sometimes got to visit the United Nations because his dad had an office job there. He said his father encouraged him to read and later encouraged him to study law.

Brewer graduated from Albany Law School in New York in 1977 and is now on the school's board of trustees.

He practiced law in New York for several years before being recruited by a Dallas firm.

In 1984, he founded Bickel & Brewer in Dallas with John Bickel, a West Point graduate. Bickel & Brewer's reputation in its first few years was mostly for "bare knuckles litigation" and "Rambo" tactics, according to newspaper and law journal articles from the late 1980s.

A 1988 article in The Texas Lawyer cited depositions in which Brewer confronted other lawyers with comments such as, "Grow up, will you?" and "It's amazing to me that anybody would get out of law school and not know how to elicit this testimony."

The firm was known for incredible stubbornness, and some Dallas lawyers still complain bitterly in private about Bickel & Brewer's clients refusing to answer straightforward questions during depositions.

"Bickel & Brewer somewhat became the poster child for that practice of law. Now they're past that," said Fred Moss, a law professor at Southern Methodist University. "They haven't had that reputation for many years."

Despite court fines levied against Bickel & Brewer at the time, Brewer defended the firm's actions, saying that was how law was practiced then.

"When the process allowed lawyers to get aggressive with each other, they did," Brewer said in a recent interview at his firm's 48th floor offices in downtown Dallas.


Brewer and his seven partners run a firm with 35 attorneys and pride themselves on "zealous advocacy" for their clients.

"He's probably one of the most intense individuals you have ever met," said Curtis Graves, an attorney who used to work at the firm.

Graves said Brewer demanded excellent work and sometimes showed an "explosive" temper to get it.

Stephen Hollern, a Fort Worth resident who worked with Brewer in 2002 on a case against Fort Worth's plans for a publicly funded hotel, thought Brewer had incredible energy and noticed that he had a small gym attached to his office.

Brewer lifts weights regularly, runs, rows and has a group over to his house every Monday night to play basketball.

Many who come to play are from the firm.

"They're persistent, they're relentless and they're committed to achieving results for their client," Dallas attorney Robert Witte said. "They play on a big stage. They have a reputation that in some ways is probably well-deserved."

While accustomed to handling multimillion-dollar cases, the firm opened a "storefront" in south Dallas in 1995 for people who could not afford legal services. Bickel & Brewer says it has offered more than $25 million in free legal services.

Dallas attorney Adelfa Callejo said that is why she recently approached Brewer about suing Irving.

"They take on these difficult cases, these very unpopular cases because Bill Brewer believes that he can make an impact in the community," she said. "These cases are very expensive to finance, but he's always been willing to take them on, and he has prevailed."

Attorney Kristi Motley directed the storefront in 2003 and said she never saw the firm turn away people looking for help.

Federal and state records show Brewer is a frequent campaign donor to Democrats and Republicans. He said he supports candidates based on their character.

He supported George Bush for president in 2000 and said he now supports Hillary Clinton.

Brewer said he wanted to debate attorney Tim O'Hare, the Farmers Branch City Council member who proposed the anti-illegal immigration measures, but O'Hare would not debate him.

O'Hare said he believes it would be unwise to debate someone who is suing his city, but declined further comment.

'I was wrong'

Brewer sometimes underestimates his opponents.

When his firm led a petition drive to put the Farmers Branch rental ban on the city ballot, he said, he was certain that voters would "overwhelmingly" strike down the ordinance.

But Farmers Branch residents voted by a 2-to-1 margin in favor of the rental ban.

"Why did I misread it? I was wrong. I misjudged our ability in that period of time to convert people from one point of view to another," Brewer said. "I also misjudged, to be honest with you, my own personal ability to carry that debate. ... I still believe we can convert a majority of people in that community."

Farmers Branch resident Tom Bohmier criticized Brewer's petition drive at the time, saying that people were not reading the full statement about the petition's purpose as required.

Bohmier said he still disagrees with Brewer and believes that the petition was mishandled. But he gained some respect for Brewer as he watched him from a distance.

"He's very charismatic. People see that he's a likeable guy," Bohmier said. "I wish he was on our side."


High-profile cases

Attorney Bill Brewer and his firm Bickel & Brewer are well-known to many in North Texas for cases that affect local government and development.

Last year, Bickel & Brewer represented a terminal owner at Dallas Love Field, arguing that expanding the airport's passenger traffic derailed a pending sale of his client's terminal. The increased passenger traffic was allowed, but Brewer continues pressing the case in court. He says Dallas should pay his client, Love Field Terminal Partners, the value of the terminal -- $100 million -- when they seize it.

In 2002, the firm represented downtown Fort Worth hotels and led a petition drive against building a publicly funded hotel there. The petition prompted the Fort Worth City Council to scrap the idea.

Brewer successfully sued the Dallas school district in 2001 for violating the Texas Open Meetings Act. A judge found that the school board was illegally keeping the public from discussions about redistricting. Brewer released embarrassing transcripts of the closed meetings to the public. He said he intends to do the same if he beats Farmers Branch in his current lawsuit alleging that city's violation of the open meetings law.

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