Kenney hires former city solicitors to fight soda tax suit

Philadelphia’s Office of the Mayor has hired lawyers Ken Trujillo and Mark Aronchick to fend off a lawsuit filed by the American Beverage Association and other allied groups trying to kill Philadelphia’s landmark soda tax.

Both men previously served as city solicitor, whose office defends the city from legal challenges. The ABA had previously retained Shanin Specter, son of former US Sen. Arlen Specter and a sometimes political adviser, as legal counsel. Specter is a founding partner of the Kline & Specter law firm and a former member of Gov. Tom Wolf’s transition team.

Trujillo, who is now with the law firm of Chamberlain Hrdlicka, has longstanding ties to the city’s major Latino nonprofits and charter schools, and briefly ran for mayor in 2015. Kenney inherited much of the short-lived campaign’s organization and staffers. 

Aronchick, a partner in the law firm of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, is a major PA political fundraiser and policy advisor to former Gov. Ed Rendell, and notably argued down PA’s gay marriage ban.

Specter has gained headlines for his litigation of medical malpractice suits. He and his firm are also active Democratic donors.

The suit comes after months of anticipation that the beverage lobby would take the tax – a hallmark of Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration – to court.

“We have always been confident that the Sweetened Beverage Tax was a proper exercise of City Council’s authority and that it will be upheld in Court.” said City Solicitor Sozi Pedro Tulante, in a press release.

The suit alleges that the levy is, in fact, a form of sales tax, which requires approval from the state Legislature. The city has previously stated any lawsuits would not derail the initiatives that the tax is meant to fund, like expanded pre-K programs or repairs to aging city libraries and rec centers.

“I have no doubt we’ll be successful in defeating the lawsuit,” said Kenney, in an email.

The city has not yet disclosed how much both men will be paid. This story will be updated as new information becomes available.