The Corbett administration has hired Chester County super lawyer William Lamb to represent the Commonwealth in the federal same-sex marriage suit.
Lamb, a Republican and founding partner of the West Chester-based firm Lamb McErlane, is one of the most prominent figures in that Pennsylvania legal community having served on the state Supreme Court and as district attorney for Chester County.
The lawsuit, filed in July in the U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, alleges that the state's ban on gay marriage violates the constitutional rights of gay couples.
Typically the attorney general represents the state in constitutional challenge cases. But Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced in July she would not do so following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning the Defense of Marriage Act because she does not believe that barring gay couples from the ability to marry is constitutional.
Corbett's general counsel James Schultz said the "unique circumstances" of this case compelled the Office of General Counsel to retain expert assistance in this case.
"The Office of General Counsel provides comprehensive legal services to numerous state agencies and executives, but we do not typically defend cases that solely challenge the constitutionality of a statute," Schultz said. "Who better than a former Supreme Court Justice and his firm to assist in addressing this type of fundamental question?"
Schultz continued, "Legal arguments concerning the constitutionality of any state law are a pressing matter for the commonwealth, along with all concerned parties, and it is important that these cases receive a comprehensive defense," he said. "Justice Lamb and his firm bring a unique set of legal experience and skills to this case."
Lamb said he looked forward to having the opportunity to serve the Commonwealth again.
"We look forward to offering our insights to this serious constitutional question," said Lamb in a statement
Lamb will be paid $400 an hour for his legal counsel work, while others in his firm will receive $325 an hour.
The press release issued by Corbett's office noted Lamb's "history of bipartisan service to the commonwealth."
He was nominated to an interim appointment on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in January 2003 by then-Gov. Mark Schweiker and was approved by incoming Gov. Ed Rendell and confirmed by the GOP-controlled state Senate..
Lamb was the first justice to serve from Chester County in 147 years, an achievement recognized in 2003 when the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry named him Citizen of the Year.
Lamb also served as District Attorney in Chester County from 1972 to 1980 after serving as Assistant District Attorney in Chester County from 1967 to 1972. Additionally, he served as a special prosecutor for Chester County from 1981 to 1984, receiving two Awards of Merit from the Pennsylvania State Police. He is recognized as a top 100 Pennsylvania Super Lawyer for appellate law and a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer since 2005.
Schultz and Lamb emphasized that the team that has been tasked with defending of the state's Marriage Law while respecting the interests and dignity of all the parties involved in this case.
"Our mission is to present a thorough legal argument in the hope that a definitive ruling from the court will bring clarity to this issue," Schultz said.
A legal response on behalf of the commonwealth is due Sept. 16, he said.
Vic Walczak, the ACLU of Pennsylvania's legal director, who is representing the plaintiffs, offered this comment Thursday:
"We appreciate having good counsel on the other side because generally it improves presentation of the competing arguments, which helps the judge reach a sound decision," he said.
The next scheduled date is a case management conference on Sept. 30, at which time a trial date would likely be set, Walczak said.
This suit, which will be heard by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, is not to be confused with the Montgomery County same-sex marriage suit filed in Commonwealth Court by the Corbett administration against the county's register of wills, D. Bruce Hanes, over his decision to issue marriage certificates to gay couples.