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July 06, 2011

Philadelphia Bar Association Files Lawsuit to Prevent Unconstitutional City Lobbying Ordinance from Taking Effect; Court Issues Stay, Sets July 5 Hearing

Rudolph Garcia, Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, announced that the Association filed a civil lawsuit today (Thursday, June 30) in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court against the City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Board of Ethics, seeking an injunction to prevent Philadelphia's new lobbying Ordinance from taking effect on July 1, claiming that it violates the state constitution and would detrimentally impact the city's practicing lawyers and the public. In response to the filing, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Albert W. Sheppard Jr. today has stayed the Ordinance pending a court hearing on Tuesday, July 5, preventing it from taking effect.

"The regulations intrude upon the exclusive authority of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to regulate the practice of law," the Chancellor said. Garcia explained that lobbying is so broadly defined by the Ordinance that it includes many activities regularly conducted by lawyers when representing their clients in legal matters. For example, requesting a zoning permit, responding to a tax notice, or settling a potential dispute would constitute lobbying under the Ordinance and would require registration, detailed record-keeping, the payment of fees and quarterly reporting to the Board.

That is particularly problematic, Garcia said, because the regulations require disclosures that may violate the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct governing lawyers.

Garcia also pointed to the potential burden to smaller nonprofit organizations that, under the Ordinance, would be subject to a $500 annual registration fee that must be paid by the organization as well as each of its "lobbyists." "Those funds will not be available to help the organization fulfill its charitable mission and the burden may stifle the organization’s ability to speak out on current community issues," Garcia said.

On June 14, the Philadelphia Bar Association submitted a 24-page letter to the Ethics Board with extensive comments and suggested revisions to the proposed regulations interpreting the Ordinance. Chancellor Garcia and attorney Lawrence J. Beaser, co-chair of the Association’s Philadelphia Lobbying Ordinance Task Force, provided testimony to the Board at its hearing on June 15, urging changes to the regulations. The Chancellor requested that the Board urge City Council to "rethink these rules in a way that reflects the underlying goals they are hoping to achieve."

"The Association looks forward to assisting City Council in its work in whatever way appropriate," the Chancellor said.

The full text of the civil action, Philadelphia Bar Association v. City of Philadelphia and Board of Ethics, can be found here.
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