It’s a case that should be a slam dunk. The city of Pittsburgh, PA passed an assault weapon ban. However, Pennsylvania has a preemption law, meaning cities can’t pass their own gun control. That has to come down from the state level. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto apparently doesn’t think laws actually apply to him, so he did what he wanted to do anyway.
That sparked the inevitable lawsuit. That includes one targeting the district attorney for refusing to accept criminal complaints against the mayor and city council for their actions.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court on Wednesday moved an appeal from four gun owners pursuing criminal complaints against Pittsburgh leaders who last year passed gun control ordinances to the Commonwealth Court.A five-page opinion from the court states jurisdiction over the case lies with the Commonwealth Court because the gun owners are seeking to compel Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., “acting in his official capacity,” to accept the criminal complaints.“As we have long stated, ‘we should be most cautious in assuming jurisdiction over matters that properly belong before the Commonwealth Court,’” the opinion states, citing a 1987 opinion.…The gun owners, all Pittsburgh residents, originally sought to file criminal complaints against Mr. Peduto and members of City Council for passing the gun control ordinances. The plaintiffs alleged the passage of the laws constituted official oppression under Pennsylvania law.The district attorney refused to accept the complaints; the gun owners sued Mr. Zappala in Common Pleas Court, saying he was violating his official duties as DA by rebuffing them.
Yeah, this one should be interesting.
Realistically, I don’t see this one going very far. While I certainly sympathize with the plaintiffs one this one–as well as being more than a little amused by the case as a whole–I somehow don’t see the courts become willing to force a DA to prosecute a case. Prosecutorial discretion is a thing, after all, and prosecutors often decide not to pursue cases for any number of reasons. I just don’t see judges willing to step on that.
Not that such a decision would be right.
What Peduto and the city council did was a clear violation of the law. If laws aren’t enforced, they’re meaningless. They’re just words on a page and nothing more. That’s especially true of laws designed to limit governmental power at various levels of government, which is what preemption does. Failing to prosecute is really just a middle finger toward the idea that any government should have limits imposed on what they can do.
Meanwhile, had the council and mayor decided to overstep bounds in some other manner, some manner that Zappala found personally objectionable, I think we all know how that would go.
And this is the problem. Zappala’s decision would be more defensible to me if he didn’t think he could actually win a case against the mayor and various city council members, but I don’t believe that to be the case.
This is going to be an interesting one to follow, to be sure.