The Harrisburg Patriot News/Penn Live reports that a default judgment was entered against the city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in a lawsuit arguing that the city’s firearms ordinances violate Pennsylvania’s firearms preemption laws. A Dauphin County prothonotary (the chief clerk of the court) entered the judgment against for $21,400 in attorney fees, “plus additional sums as may be assessed” because of an oversight that omitted the name of plaintiff Howard Bullock from a filing made by Harrisburg’s attorneys requesting removal of the suits against Harrisburg’s ordinances. In other words . . .
they wanted the action to be transferred from Pennsylvania Courts to a federal court. The defendants in this suit requested this because the plaintiffs had asserted a violation of constitutional rights; as a matter of strategy, they probably expected that their chances would be better in federal court. Because of this oversight, the city technically did not file an answer or preliminary objection to Bullock’s complaint within the required 20 days, so Bullock’s attorney, Joshua Prince, sought a default judgment in his client’s favor.
It is also the second strike against Harrisburg’s anti-gun efforts in recent days. Last week, Dauphin County Judge Andrew Dowling delivered a more serious blow when he issued a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of three of Harrisburg’s gun ordinances, which barred possession of firearms in parks during a state of emergency, and by unaccompanied minors, as regulating “lawful” conduct, therefore violating Pennsylvania’s state preemption law. Judge Dowling did not enjoin two other ordinances at issue: Harrisburg’s lost and stolen firearms ordinance, or another ordinance barring the discharge of firearms within the city limits.
What’s interesting here is that the default judgment entered in Bullock’s case actually covers all five ordinances. Plaintiff’s attorney Prince is making the argument that since Bullock’s case wasn’t removed to federal court, it still remains in state court and as a result, is planning to schedule a hearing for assessment of damages and additional attorney fees” incurred by his client. Harrisburg’s attorneys are going to argue that this is a technical point.
On a lighter note, Harry Truman, being introduced to a protohonotary while on a campaign swing through Pennsylvania in 1948, reportedly asked: “What the hell is a prothonotary?” Truman went on to lose Pennsylvania that year to Thomas E. Dewey by around 4 points. Moral of the story: don’t mess with Pennsylvania prothonotaries.