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WATCHBLOG: Former justice defending PA marriage law comes from GOP-backing firm

By   /   September 6, 2013  /   No Comments

By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent

HARRISBURG — The outside counsel who will aid state lawyers in defending the state’s ban on same-sex marriage comes from a law firm whose political donations show Republican ties.

The Corbett administration announced this week it retained former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice William Lamb to help defend the constitutionality of the state’s Marriage Law, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

LAMB: The former Supreme Court justice is now tasked with defending the state's Marriage Law.

LAMB: The former Supreme Court justice is now tasked with defending the state’s Marriage Law.

Lamb, who has extensive prosecutorial experience in addition to his time on the high court, is the chairman of the law firm Lamb McErlane PC of West Chester.

The firm donated $39,500 to Gov. Tom Corbett’s political campaigns from 2004 through 2012, according to records from FollowtheMoney.org. Including donations from the firm’s employees, Lamb McErlane donated a little more than $77,000 to Corbett and Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley from 2004 through 2012.

All told, Lamb McErlane and its employees have donated more than $215,000 to Pennsylvania state candidates since 2004, all to Republicans except for a $250 one-time donation to a Democrat from an employee.

No political donations, however, came from Lamb individually, and Lamb’s background in the judiciary has something of a bipartisan pattern.  He was nominated by Republican Gov. Mark Schweiker, and then approved by Democrat Gov. Edward Rendell after he was confirmed by the Senate.

Lamb will be paid $400 per hour to defend the constitutionality of the state’s marriage law in a case brought earlier this year by same-sex couples and the American Civil Liberties Union. They brought the case in federal court, claiming the statute defining marriage between a man and a woman violates the U.S. Constitution.

The administration maintains the firm’s donations had nothing to do with their selection.

Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, press secretary for the Office of General Counsel, said the only consideration for any decision regarding retention of outside counsel is the skills and quality of the attorney.

“You’re going to win or lose based on the skills and quality of their argument, so using any other criteria doesn’t get the job done,” he said.

The work of outside counsel is evaluated as the price is negotiated, Hagen-Frederiksen said, and re-evaluated throughout the case to ensure firms provide “the best quality work.” He also said the $400 hourly rate is a “substantial discount” in this situation.

OGC sought outside counsel in this case because OGC is typically not tasked with defending the constitutionality of laws, Hagen-Frederiksen said. That’s usually left up to the Office of Attorney General, which has a wing devoted to constitutional law.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane has said she cannot ethically defend the law as she believes it’s unconstitutional, deferring to OGC to handle the case.

Hagen-Frederiksen said  even with outside counsel, the work is typically done in partnership, working side-by-side with the state’s attorneys.

Contact Melissa Daniels at [email protected]


Melissa formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.