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Federal Judge Won't Reconsider Harrisburg Lawsuit Dismissal

A federal judge refused to reconsider his January dismissal of a lawsuit that challenged Harrisburg, Pa.’s recovery plan.

John Jones III of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg ruled Wednesday that the City Council, city Controller Dan Miller and city Treasurer John Campbell do not get “a second bite at the apple.” They had argued that 2011 state law that pushed capital city Harrisburg into receivership violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Presented only with baseless accusations and provocative threats of appeal, we cannot but deny the plaintiffs’ motion,” said Jones.

Kennett Square, Pa., attorney Paul Rossi, who represented the plaintiffs, had called Jones’ Jan. 9 ruling flawed.

“This court’s standing analysis is so bad and so wrong that plaintiffs are compelled to appeal this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit if left unaltered,” Rossi wrote in a Feb. 6 filing.

Harrisburg is under state receivership and is facing $340 million of debt that it cannot pay, mostly due to bond financing overruns related to an incinerator retrofit project. It has missed its last two general obligation bond payments. Another one is due March 15.

Jones criticized Rossi for suggesting that “a federal district judge would shy away from jumping into the fiscal mess that is Harrisburg.”

The judge, who called Rossi’s language “malevolent,” replied: “This is patent nonsense, and to suggest that this or any federal court rigged its evaluation of a claim to dodge a case is conduct that is both disingenuous and potentially sanctionable.”

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