By Sam Galski
A former Hazleton City solicitor waived a roughly $1,500 invoice his law firm submitted to the city earlier this year for services rendered regarding Hazleton’s neverenforced immigration ordinances.
Council members applauded former Solicitor Chris Slusser after learning earlier this week that the attorney agreed to donate $1,551.50 worth of legal services that the Slusser Law Firm submitted for work regarding the Illegal Immigration Relief Act (IIRA).
Economic Development Officer Joseph Zeller III told council members recently that Slusser agreed to waive the legal fees after learning that council had asked if Slusser would consider donating services that his law office provided a number of years ago when developing the ordinances.
Slusser said Wednesday that he had no problem waiving the fees, saying he was more than happy to help a city that he worked with for 15 years. He agreed to donate services as city officials contemplate a 20 percent property tax increase that the administration proposes for 2017.
“The 15 years that I spent there, it consumed a large part of my early professional years,” he said. “I understand the problems we’re facing. They can use a little help right now.”
Councilwoman Grace Cuozzo expressed her gratitude in an email she sent to Slusser Wednesday.
“Joey Zeller told council you agreed to making that final bill a donation to the city,” Cuozzo wrote. “I want to thank you very much. As you know the city is not in the best shape financially and every little bit helps. Again Chris please accept my thanks.”
The invoice was sent to the city in early September. Slusser said at the time that the bill was originally sent to the city six or seven years ago — and resubmitted earlier this year after his billing manager did a comprehensive review of money that all of his clients owe the law firm.
Council members tabled the resolution in September, citing the amount of time that had passed and because it did not contain an itemized list of services.
The immigration ordinances were approved by city council during Lou Barletta’s tenure as mayor and sought to punish landlords who knowingly rented to — and businesses that knowingly employed — illegal immigrants.
The IIRA sparked a lengthy court battle that ended in 2015 when the city settled for $1.32 million with attorneys for plaintiffs who challenged the ordinances. The settlement was about $100,000 less than attorney fees and costs that a federal district court judge awarded to the plaintiffs.
The city paid the settlement by restructuring its debts and refinancing a loan it secured through its redevelopment authority. The city also relied on donations from a legal defense fund it created in 2006. Officials used about $500,000 from the fund to pay bills for its immigration court battle through 2013. In addition, the city spent at least $97,333 from its general fund to pay for legal services provided by the Kobach Law firm between 2010 and 2015, according to records released by the administration.