Judge holds injunction in Scouts case

A federal judge has denied a request by city attorneys to lift an injunction preventing a local Boy Scouts chapter from being evicted from a city-owned building.

U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter denied the request in a 12-page memorandum issued last week. At this stage of the litigation, Buckwalter noted, it’s still possible that the Scouts’ constitutional rights would be violated by the eviction.

But Buckwalter granted the city’s request for a bond hearing, to determine whether the Scouts should post a bond for the duration of the injunction.

The exact amount of the bond, if one is to be posted, also will be discussed at the hearing, Buckwalter said.

The judge set the public hearing for 9:30 a.m. Jan. 19 in Courtroom 14A of the U.S. Courthouse, 601 Market St.

City attorneys said a bond is necessary to protect the city’s financial interests in the event the Scouts ultimately are evicted from the building yet still haven’t paid any rent.

The litigation has ensued for 20 months, and the Scouts are in rental arrears of about $320,000, according to court records.

Also at the bond hearing, Buckwalter is expected to explain a prior association he had with the Boy Scouts of America.

In 2008, Buckwalter volunteered information about this association in a private discussion with both parties in his chambers. But the nature of the association hasn’t yet been publicly explained.

The injunction city attorneys objected to, issued by Buckwalter on Nov. 18, effectively prevents Common Pleas Judge Mark I. Bernstein from ordering the Cradle of Liberty Council’s eviction from 231-251 N. 22nd St.

Prior to the injunction, the eviction case had been pending before both judges because of overlapping issues that both said they were capable of ruling on.

In opposition to the injunction, city attorneys argued that Buckwalter over-extended his authority and unduly interfered with local rule.

But in his Jan. 6 memorandum, Buckwalter said he clearly was acting within his scope of authority, and he reiterated his previous position that the Scouts also had rights that needed protection.

Buckwalter said he recognized the “deference” owed to a state court, but said that “abandoning” the federal case at this juncture would be akin to “forum-shopping and judicial inefficiency.”

The 22nd Street building is the only municipally owned building in the country that serves exclusively as a headquarters for a Scouts’ council.

In a related matter, city attorneys on Jan. 5 asked Buckwalter to order the Scouts to produce documents and information needed by the city to complete discovery, and to grant a 30-day extension on the discovery phase.

City attorneys asked Buckwalter to extend the discovery deadline to Feb. 8, adding the extension shouldn’t postpone the jury trial, scheduled to begin April 21.

At press time, Buckwalter hadn’t ruled on the request.

Tim Cwiek can be reached at (215) 625-8501 ext. 208.