U.S. Markets

Pennsylvania city must pay $1.4 million legal fees in immigration fight

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - The mayor of Hazleton, Pennsylvania on Wednesday said the city will seek a ten-year payment plan after being ordered by a court to pay $1.4 million to lawyers who sued the city over a 2006 ordinance targeting illegal immigrants.

Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi said that if agreed to by the American Civil Liberties Union and other plaintiff lawyers, the payment plan would allow the city of 25,340 to avoid the tax hikes and layoffs it would otherwise need in order to pay the legal fees.

“We lost, so we had to pay. But it was not a wasted cause. We thought we were right,” Yannuzzi said. U.S. District Judge James Munley issued his ruling about the fees late on Tuesday.

In 2006, Hazleton’s City Council, at the prodding of then-mayor Lou Barletta, passed an ordinance barring local businesses from hiring illegal immigrants and landlords from renting housing to them. Barletta is now a U.S. Representative.

The ACLU and others sued. The subsequent court battle lasted eight years, with appeals going twice to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The city was unable to get past rulings that immigration control was a matter for the federal government.

ACLU lawyers originally asked for $2.8 million in legal fees. But Judge Munley cut that amount by half because the lawyers did not prevail on all their claims.

Munley rejected a 14-year payment plan proposed by Hazleton’s lawyer, Kris Kobach, a national activist against illegal immigration who is also the Republican Secretary of State of Kansas. Kobach did not respond to a request for comment.

Omar Jadwat, one of the ACLU lawyers, said the lawyers are committed to finding a payment plan for Hazleton “that works.”

Yannuzzi said he did not believe the city would appeal. The court set a Jan. 15 deadline to work out a payment agreement.

Reporting by David DeKok in Harrisburg; Editing by Hilary Russ and Meredith Mazzilli