It appears as though a lawsuit filed by the Philadelphia Bar Association challenging a new city lobbying disclosure law has been put on hold, at least for the time being.
The city had passed an ordinance last summer that would require lobbying firms to register with the city and file reports detailing their clients and expenses related to their attempts to influence local government, according to news reports.
The law was set to take effect on July 1.
But the bar association claimed the law defined lobbying too broadly. The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce agreed, saying it could negatively impact business.
The Philadelphia Bar Association saw the law as problematic because it could include law firms in the group of so-called influential lobbyists.
On June 30, Rudolph Garcia, chancellor of the bar association and an attorney practicing with the city firm Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, filed suit in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas seeking declaratory judgment and injunctive relief.
The defendants were the City of Philadelphia and the city’s Board of Ethics, which would enforce the new regulation.
The complaint was filed the day before the new law was set to take effect.
“The ordinance defines lobbying so broadly that it includes many activities regularly conducted by lawyers when practicing law,” the lawsuit read.
According to the since-withdrawn complaint, under the new lobbying disclosure law, activities such as requesting zoning permits, responding to tax notices, or settling potential disputes would constitute lobbying, and require registration with the city, something that would mean information about clients would be revealed publicly.
The bar association, in its suit, had argued that this would be both a violation of Pennsylvania’s Rules of Professional Conduct and a violation of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which says only the state supreme court can regulate the practice of law.
In a July 7 press release, the bar association’s Garcia hailed the city’s decision to hold off on implementing the new ordinance, saying it would most likely mean an end to the group’s civil action.
“The Resolution adopted today by the Board of Ethics relieves everyone of the obligation to retroactively report activities between July 1 and the new effective date,” Garcia said in the statement. “This means that no one will be at risk of non-compliance until after the requirements are clarified.”
In response to the filing of the lawsuit on June 30, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Albert Sheppard issued a stay of the ordinance, scheduling a July 5 hearing, which was subsequently postponed to today, according to the bar association.
The hearing was not expected to take place now that the bar association withdrew its suit.
In the news release, the bar association says it does not totally oppose a lobbying registration law. Rather, the group takes issue with the activities defined as lobbying.
“The Bar does not oppose regulation of lobbying by lawyers or anyone else,” Garcia states in the release. “However, this ordinance goes much further than it should be covering things that are not really lobbying.”
In mid June, the bar association submitted to the Board of Ethics suggested revisions to the new ordinance, recommendations it hopes the board will now take up.
If things don’t change, the bar association reserves the right to re-file its lawsuit.