Saturday, November 6, 2010

Federal Appeals Court Rules Against Hazleton

The Times Leader is reporting the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against the City of Hazleton in a case with its insurer, Scottsdale Insurance Company, over the payment of legal bills involving its Illegal Immigration Relief Act lawsuit.

In this very inaccurate statement Terri Morgan-Besecker writes:

A federal appellate court on Friday ruled an insurance company does not have to pay attorneys’ fees associated with Hazleton City’s battle over its illegal immigration ordinance, leaving the city on the hook for at least $2.4 million, and likely much more.

What is true is that the Third Circuit Court of Appeals relieved Scottsdale Insurance Company from any financial obligation in this court issue. What is totally untrue is that the city is "on the hook for at least $2.4 million, and likely much more."

No court has awarded any attorney fees in this case. Judge Munley ruled against the City of Hazleton with regards to the Illegal Immigration Relief Act which can be found a this link.

The Plaintiffs filed a separate action to recover attorney fees and cost titled Plaintiffs Petition for Fees and Costs . Since the appelate process has not concluded the actual award has not been established.

Let's look at one of the firms involved in the litigation and mentioned in the Plaintiffs Petition for Fees and Costs, Cozen O'Connor. The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel interviewed the Douglas B. Fox, Member of Cozen O'Connor and Chair of the firm's Pro Bono Committee on August 08. 2008 about its role in the case.

Fox: We are currently handling a high-profile case, Lozano v. Hazleton , involving a challenge to the Hazleton, PA., illegal immigration ordinances. Our team of six attorneys has dedicated thousands of hours to this case - our single largest pro bono matter to date. Lost in the rancorous debate over immigration policy is the fact that the Hazleton case does not seek to vindicate illegal immigration. Our clients simply sought to restore immigration enforcement to the federal government - where it belongs. We were successful after a two-week trial in striking down key elements of the ordinances, and currently, the case is on appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. A ruling is probably several months away.

The case has made national headlines and was highlighted by the National Law Journal as one of the most significant pro bono matters of 2007, with the tagline for their article being "What Lawyering is All About." And, that really says it all. Firm management deserves a great deal of credit for having the courage to take on an unpopular cause, one that many law firms would have shied away from. We have received many honors for our pro bono work, including in the Hazleton case. This kind of recognition for the quality of our pro bono lawyering is what makes me the most proud.

The Pennsylvania Bar Association gave Cozen O"Connor one such award in 2007.

Cozen O’Connor: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County (Nominated by H. Robert Fiebach, Esquire) Cozen O’Connor law firm is recognized as a “go to” firm in handling complex pro bono matters, particularly in the field’s Immigration/ Asylum Law and post conviction remedies. Pro bono service is an integral part of the firm’s culture. Cozen encourages all of its attorneys to devote at least 60-hours annually, allowing 50 of those hours to be treated as full production credits. In 2006, Cozen O’Connor’s Pennsylvania attorneys and paralegals devoted over 9,900 hours to pro bono matters. Firm attorneys also take leadership roles in public service and charitable organizations and sit on the Boards of Directors of pro bono services organizations. Additionally, the firm has developed its own charitable programs that serve the greater Philadelphia region.

If their work was pro bono why would they be entitled to a court award of their fees?

Look at the Plaintiffs Petition for Fees and Costs. There are five firms applying for attorneys fees. Cozen O'Connor has twenty one attorneys billing for fees.

Witold Walczak, attorney for the ACLU, filed for $324,400 worth of fees at a rate of $400.00 per hour. Lest we not forget that the ACLU has also represented the American Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Nation of Islam. According to their website this is how they fund themselves. Member dues and contributions and grants from private foundations and individuals pay for the work we do. If that is the case why is their attorney billing Hazleton at a rate of $400.00 per hour?

Fifteen attorneys besides the 21 from Cozen O'Connor have filed for fees. The total listed on the Petition is $2,333,551.50 in attorneys’ fees and $45,492.70 in costs.

Clearly the size of the bill is intended to send a message to any government entity that wants to take action against the cost of illegal immigration to its community. It is funny that the American Civil Liberties Union will protect your right to free speech but punish the citizens of Hazleton for protecting its community. The elected officials will not be stuck with their bill. It is the taxpayers that will fund their burden should an award be given to the Plaintiffs. But, as stated, until that happens the news media should not be as reckless with its articles to the public.

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