PHILADELPHIA – Mayor Jim Kenney announced today that City Solicitor Marcel S. Pratt is leaving his role as the City of Philadelphia’s chief legal officer. Pratt accepted an offer to become the Managing Partner of the Philadelphia office of Ballard Spahr LLP, one of the largest law firms in the country that serves corporate clients nationally in more than 50 practice areas. The Mayor has appointed Diana P. Cortes, currently Chair of the Litigation Group at the Law Department, to succeed Pratt in overseeing the 330-employee operation. Pratt plans to serve as Solicitor until December 10, 2020; Cortes will then serve as Acting City Solicitor until her appointment is voted on by City Council.
“I thank Marcel for his tremendous service to our government and our city over the last four years. Some of our Administration’s greatest accomplishments are tied to Marcel’s leadership of our legal strategy and operations, especially our consistent success in legal matters that have defined us as a City. Marcel’s remarkable tenure included some of the most consequential legal matters in recent history. He began with the successful defense of the Philadelphia Beverage Tax in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2018 and is now defending our democracy and election process during the 2020 Election,” said Mayor Kenney. “I have equal confidence in Diana’s ability to advise us as the City’s top lawyer. Her impressive leadership of the litigation practice made her the obvious choice to succeed Marcel.”
Pratt, who joined the City in August 2016 as Chair of the Litigation Group, was elevated to City Solicitor in March 2018, becoming the youngest person ever appointed and confirmed to the City’s top legal post.
Pratt ran one of the largest municipal law practices in the country and personally litigated several high-profile matters in court with success: he convinced the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to restore the City’s salary-history question ban to help close the wage gap for women and people of color; he obtained an injunction that prevented Hahnemann Hospital from abruptly closing without a satisfactory closure plan; and he served as co-counsel at trial during the City’s successful sanctuary cities litigation. Through affirmative litigation, Pratt obtained a multimillion-dollar settlement in a discriminatory mortgage-lending lawsuit that provided down payment assistance to low and moderate-income homebuyers. Pratt, with Cortes, led the City’s recent effort to sue the General Assembly for harming Black and Brown communities by preempting Philadelphia from passing common sense gun safety laws.
In response to the pandemic, Pratt devised the novel legal framework for the City’s COVID-19 emergency orders. He has approved the legality of every mitigation measure, directly advising the Mayor and Health Commissioner.
Pratt’s efforts to promote diversity in the office included committing the Law Department to considering at least 50% historically underrepresented lawyers for its open positions, the first municipal law department in the country to do so. Under his leadership, the office received international and local awards for its diversity and public service efforts.
In addition to serving as Solicitor, the Mayor appointed Pratt to serve as co-chair of the steering committee for the Mayor’s Pathways to Reform, Transformation and Reconciliation initiative, which obtains the guidance of external stakeholders on police reforms, public safety, health, economic justice, and racial equity.
“My time in public service has been the most rewarding and exciting period of my life. I gave this job my all. I fought for my city, my hometown, and tried to use the law to make a difference. And I’ve been blessed, once again, with an amazing opportunity to practice law at the highest level in Philadelphia, this time back in the private sector,” Pratt said. “The hardest part is leaving my family of City colleagues, especially the talented, dedicated members of the Law Department. But I find comfort in knowing that the City will have a brilliant lawyer and leader in Diana Cortes, who has been my closest adviser and is one of the best lawyers with whom I’ve ever worked.”
The appointment of Cortes is historic: She will be the first Latina City Solicitor in Philadelphia’s history. “It has been a great privilege to have worked for and learned from Solicitor Pratt for the past two and a half years as he led the Law Department to a new level of legal excellence all while navigating the unprecedented challenges of 2020. I am truly honored and humbled to be asked by Mayor Kenney to succeed Solicitor Pratt and that City Council will consider my appointment at such a momentous and critical time in our city and nation,” Cortes said.
In addition to leading the 70-lawyer Litigation Group, Cortes is personally litigating critically important cases, such as the initial civil prosecution under the City’s Lost and Stolen Gun Ordinance, for which she obtained a successful ruling last week. Prior to joining the Law Department, Cortes was an attorney at Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin P.C. in its Professional Liability Department, where she represented municipalities and school districts. She previously worked in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, where she tried bench and jury trials, and at the international law firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, where her practice included commercial litigation and white-collar criminal defense matters. She clerked for the Honorable Juan R. Sánchez, current Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Cortes graduated from Cornell University and Villanova University School of Law.
Pratt’s headshot is available HERE and can be used for publication.
Cortes’s headshot is available HERE and can be used for publication.