Judge Ronald Buckwalter on Tuesday rejected the city’s attempt to overturn one part of a 2010 mixed-verdict federal jury ruling in favor of the Boy Scouts Cradle of Liberty Council and said the city is not entitled to a new trial in the case. Additionally, Buckwalter ordered the city to pay $877,122.07 to the Scouts for legal fees the agency incurred in its suit against the city.
The city had argued that the verdict was conflicted and that, even if the count was upheld, it shouldn’t pay more than $300,000.
The city has been trying to evict the Cradle of Liberty Council from the building it occupies at 231-251 N. 22nd St. since 2008 because the council won’t accept gays and refuses to pay rent.
City Solicitor Shelley Smith told PGN Wednesday that the city is weighing its next course of action.
“We just got the opinion a few hours ago so we are still reviewing it to determine our options,” she said.
The city will have 30 days to appeal the ruling to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Any appeal would be handled by the law firm of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP on a pro-bono basis.
Smith said the city disagreed with Buckwalter’s finding.
“We’re disappointed in the ruling,” she said. “We certainly of course thought we made good arguments in post-trial motions.”
The jury in the 2010 trial found that the city imposed an “unconstitutional condition” on the Cradle of Liberty Council by ordering it to depart from the national agency’s policy of barring openly gay members in order to comply with the city’s LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law and avoid eviction from its city-owned building.
However, it did find in the city’s favor on questions of viewpoint discrimination and equal-protection claims.
The city had previously asked Buckwalter to delay his ruling on its request for a new trial — or for dismissal of the one claim the Scouts won — as a measure was being worked out in City Council that would have sold the building to the Scouts for a discounted price. That deal, largely opposed by LGBT activists, fell through in late 2011, precipitating Wednesday’s ruling.
In a recent filing, Cradle of Liberty requested that the city pay more than $1 million in legal fees to firm Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP resulting from the case.
In contesting that figure, the city argued that the attorney rates — up to $500 an hour — were unreasonable, as was the amount of time the attorneys worked on the case.
Buckwalter ruled the attorney fees were within reason, although he reduced the number of billable attorney hours by 321.
In its request for a new trial, the city had challenged the instructions issued to the jury and said verdict was inconsistent.
In his ruling, Buckwalter concluded that the Cradle of Liberty council did not introduce enough evidence to support its claim of unconstitutional conditions, “that the Court did not err in issuing its instructions and interrogitories to the jury, and that the jury’s verdict is not inconsistent.”
The judge's memorandum also cited "an appearance of impropriety in the solicitor's office" because of former City Solicitor Romy Diaz’s relationship with activists working to evict the Scouts.
Jen Colletta can be reached at email@example.com.