The Rise and Fall of James Ellison

Posted by By at 30 October, at 11 : 43 AM Print

1996: James Ellison moved to Harrisburg in 1996 and graduated from Widener Law School in 1997. Mr. Ellison is currently an equity partner at Rhoads & Sinon.

Mr Ellison was past Chairman and CEO of the Harrisburg Authority, past Chairman of the Harrisburg Public School Foundation, past President of the Harrisburg Young Professionals, and is Vice President of the Harrisburg Urban League Young Professionals. (Rhoads & Sinon).

1997: Mr. Ellison began employment at Rhoads & Sinon on August 25, 1997 and served as an associate in the firm until January, 2005.

1997 – 1999: Mr. Ellison served as  general counsel for the Harrisburg School District.

1997 – 2004: Mr. Ellison served as assistant general counsel and general counsel for the Harrisburg Authority.

January, 2005: Mr. Ellison became a partner at Rhoads & Sinon.

January, 2005: Rhoads & Sinon was replaced as general counsel for the Harrisburg Authority by Bruce Foreman. Rhodes & Sinon continued to provide “legal guidance” to the Harrisburg Authority. (State Ethics Commission, April 27, 2012.)

November 7, 2005: The Central Dauphin School board appointed Mr. Ellison as the district’s solicitor.

2001 – 2005. Mr. Ellison was appointed again to serve as counsel for the Harrisburg School District. “The district paid Rhoads & Sinon $1.97 million between March 1996 and August of 2008, according to records obtained by the Patriot News through a Right-to-Know request. (Patriot News, Sharon SmithDecember 23, 2009.) August 2007 – March 12, 2010: Mr. Ellison served on the board of the Harrisburg Authority.

2008-March 2010:  “According to records obtained by the Patriot News, Rhoads & Sinon received $54,395 in legal fees from the Harrisburg Authority in 2007. From 2008 to the present, the law firm made $395,861 in fees from the authority. (Patriot News, Sharon SmithDecember 23, 2009.)

2009: Mr. Ellison ran Linda Thompson’s successful bid for Mayor of Harrisburg and served as the campaign’s treasurer. Rhoads & Sinon contributed $25,000 to the Thompson campaign.

James Ellison emerged as a powerful political force in Harrisburg politics. Mr. Ellison played a major role in the successful political campaigns of Gloria Martin-Roberts, Susan Brown-Wilson and Kelly Summerford for the City Council and Tiffany Penn and Patricia Whitehead-Myers for Harrisburg’s school board.

2009:  “Ellison’s law firm has profited handsomely from $2.4 million in work with the school district and Harrisburg Authority.” (Patriot News, Sharon SmithDecember 23, 2009.)

August 10, 2009: Based on legal advice provided by Mr. Ellison, the Central Dauphin school board voted 5-1 – with three members absent – to out source transportation services to Durham School Services. Ford Thompson cast the dissenting vote.

2010: James Ellison advised the Harrisburg Board of Control that it didn’t need to give Harrisburg’s superintendent Gerald Kohn a notice or a hearing before terminating him with 16 months remaining on the contract.

March 15, 2010: The Harrisburg Board of Control, composed of five members appointed by Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson and two elected officials, voted 5 to 2 to rescind the contract of Gerald Kohn.

February 23, 2010: Dauphin County Commissioner Jeff Haste called for James Ellison to resign as head of the Harrisburg Authority.

March 12, 2010: James Ellison resigned as chairman of the Harrisburg Authority.

April 12, 2010: This was the last day Mr. Ellison served as the solicitor for Central Dauphin. (Minutes of the CDSD Board of Directors’ Meeting.)

May 24, 2010: The Central Dauphin school board hired a new solicitor and replaced Rhoads & Sinon with Post & Schell as counsel on transportation issues. (Minutes of the CDSD Board of Directors’ Meeting.)

The District  paid Rhoads & Sinon $279,922.50 from May 2009 to May 2010 for its legal work on outsourcing bus transportation. Other legal costs were subsequently incurred by Post & Schell. (Central Dauphin School District’s Responses to Right to Know Requests.)

May 30, 2012: The Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission fined James Ellison, the former chairman of the Harrisburg Authority, for violations of the State Ethics Act. Mr. Ellison agreed to pay $2,297 for a conflict of interest relating to the referral of work to his law firm.

November 13, 2012: During Harrisburg debt hearings before the Pennsylvania senate, Mr. Ellison was asked if he signed off on a “Conflict of Interest Opinion.’’ Mr. Ellison replied, “I never saw an Opinion.” Sen. Eichelberger (R-Blair) stated, “That’s disappointing.”

February 20, 2013: As part of a $2.4 million wrongful termination settlement, Rhoads & Sinon agreed to pay $250,000 to Harrisburg’s former-superintendent Gerald Kohn and two of Kohn’s former assistants.

October 23, 2013: Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan “announced that [James] Ellison as well as his law firm are now being investigated for potential criminal conduct. Questions surround whether Ellison over billed or illegally billed the [Coatesville Area School] District for services going back to 2010, during which his law firm collected $4 million in legal fees.” (NBC Philadelphia, October 23, 2013).

October 24, 2013: Coatesville Area School District’s board hired Conrad O’Brien to represent it during the DA’s investigation into school finances.  District Attorney Thomas Hogan said,  Mr. Ellison’s “representation of the district was now a conflict of interest, since he and his firm were part of the investigation. He recommended that the board find another lawyer, but acknowledged that replacing Ellison was up to the board. “ (Philadelphia Inquirer, October 24, 2013).

 

Photo by Jayme Frye

This post was written by:
- who has written 395 posts for Rock The Capital
Eric J. Epstein is RocktheCapital‘s coordinator and a community advocate for good government for over 25 years. Mr. Epstein is also Chairman of the Three Mile Island Alert, Inc., a safe-energy organization founded in 1977; President of EFMR Monitoring Group, Inc., a non-profit economic development corporation established in 1977, and Chairman of the Stray Winds Area Neighbors (SWAN), a smart growth association organized in 2005. Mr. Epstein was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Humanities at PSU-Harrisburg (1992-1999) and co-authored the Dictionary of the Holocaust, which was released by Greenwood Press (1997) - Email Eric Epstein

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