A federal judge in Pennsylvania has ordered state Sen. Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson, to pay the League of Women Voters’ attorney fees, finding the senator improperly removed the group’s challenge over Pennsylvania’s congressional map to federal court.
U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ordered Scarnati to personally pay $29,000 to the league’s lawyers to cover the fees resulting from Scarnati’s attempt to have the gerrymandering challenge litigated in federal court.
The league is represented by the Public Interest Law Center, which handled the case pro bono. However, the league argued its lawyers should be reimbursed for the time spent on the case. Baylson slashed the amount from the originally requested $52,000.
“The court finds that Senator Scarnati should personally be liable for these fees and costs,” Baylson wrote in his opinion. “The court has not located any federal law authority as to whether Senator Scarnati may be reimbursed.”
Scarnati removed the case to federal court from the Commonwealth Court where it was initially filed.
Michael Churchill of the Public Interest Law Center referred comment to the center’s legal director, and Matthew Haverstick, who represents Scarnati, did not respond to a request for comment.
The law center’s legal director, Mimi McKenzie, said the removal of the case to federal court was “frivolous” and said she was glad the court awarded fees.
In March, the U.S. Supreme Court and a federal appeals panel each rejected separate challenges brought by state Republicans aimed at invalidating the state’s recently redrawn congressional map.
A specially convened three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled that several state and federal legislators did not have standing to bring claims over the map, and later Monday afternoon, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a separate request to stay implementation of the new congressional district map, which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued in February.
The rulings come after several months of fighting over whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overstepped its authority when it determined the 2011 congressional map had been unconstitutionally gerrymandered, and then redrew the districts.
At the Supreme Court level, plaintiffs, who included Pennsylvania House of Representatives Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, and Senate President Pro Tempore Scarnati, had sought an emergency stay of the new map. That request, made in Turzai v. League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, was denied without explanation by the justices.
At the district court level, the specially convened panel found that state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, and state Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, who is chair of the Senate’s government committee, and eight members of the state’s congressional delegation did not have standing to challenge the map. The ruling in Corman v. Torres dismissed the case.