If there’s one thing they teach you in law school, it’s to meet all court deadlines no matter what. You don’t miss filing a lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs, you don’t skip answering the complaint before the answer is due and when you petition to remove the case from state to federal court, you include all the plaintiffs in that petition. Otherwise, you just might end up defaulting when you don’t answer the complaint that’s still open.
But, hey, shit happens, right?
First, a brief history of the sad tale of Pennsylvania’s capital city, Harrisburg. Over the last decade or so, the former mayor, Steven Reed, balanced the budget and paid for pet projects like artifact buying binges to fill a proposed Old West Museum on the banks of the Susquehanna – a river smack dab in the middle of the East Coast. Reed even managed to score Annie Oakley’s traveling vanity case and a vampire hunting kit using money from a series of bond issues. The money was supposed to renovate a flawed incinerator. Eventually, the city defaulted and went into receivership.
To make a long story short, Harrisburg is broke. It does, however, have on the books a number of gun control ordinances including one that requires gun owners report stolen guns that to the police and another ordinance that prohibits discharging guns within city limits.
So when the Pennsylvania legislature decided to pass a law prohibiting municipalities from enacting gun control laws, it also provided some built in motivation to sue. Challenge a gun ordinance and get your legal fees paid.
Enter Attorney Joshua Prince. No sooner was the ink dry on the law, than he prepared a lawsuit on behalf of four named plaintiffs challenging Harrisburg’s gun ordinances under the new state law and the Second Amendment.
Harrisburg started a legal defense fund (remember, it is broke) soliciting donations, contacted its insurance carrier for legal assistance, engaged outside counsel through the carrier and petitioned to remove the case to federal court before filing an answer. However, that petition apparently didn’t include one of the named plaintiffs. The case was removed, the deadline to answer passed and Prince immediately filed a motion for a default judgment. It was granted to the tune of $21,000 in attorneys’ fees plus undetermined damages.
And there is the lesson for attorneys everywhere. It’s your responsibility to double-check pleadings, motions and deadlines. Fundraisers take second place to the actual practice of law. Because someday your Prince will come. On the plus side, should Harrisburg have to pay this default judgment, surely it could sue the outside firm that the insurance carrier designated to (mis)handle the litigation for legal malpractice. Maybe they’ll get a default judgment too.
[Illustration via Shutterstock]