Outgoing Pa. health secretary not off hook in diner dispute - abc27 WHTM

Outgoing Pa. health secretary not off hook in diner dispute

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Dr. Eli Avila Dr. Eli Avila

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Eli Avila won't be leaving Harrisburg behind completely when he moves back to New York.

Charles Schmidt, an attorney representing Harrisburg restaurant owner Richard Hanna, said he and his client will continue to pursue legal action against Avila for a dispute that began when the health secretary accused Hanna of serving him eggs that weren't fresh.

Avila tendered his resignation Thursday, saying he planned to pursue other interests and spend more time with his family, who remained at their home in Albany when Avila took the cabinet post in January 2011.

Hanna claims Avila appeared to be in a hurry when he came into Roxy's Cafe on North 3rd Street during his first month in Harrisburg and ordered an egg sandwich. He says he got into a heated exchange with the health secretary when he tried to serve him the eggs he was preparing for himself.

Avila later said in a statement that he called city health inspectors and accused Roxy's of unsanitary cooking conditions. A city inspector found only a few minor issues.

Hanna also claims that Avila told others to avoid his restaurant.

"We've alleged that he defamed Mr. Hanna, also that he interfered with prospective business relationships," Schmidt said.

The tension escalated in November when the Philadelphia Inquirer obtained an email from Avila to the Department of General Services secretary that showed Avila tried to block Roxy's from winning the contract to take over food service at the Capitol cafeteria. Roxy's didn't get the contract.

"It is my professional opinion that they should not have any nexus to food services with the Capitol," Avila wrote in the email. "I will elaborate if you want to talk to me about the matter."

The state attorney general's office will continue to represent Avila in the civil lawsuit because he was sued in his official capacity. The administration of Governor Tom Corbett on Thursday called the lawsuit "frivolous and attention-getting."

"It was dismissed in federal court and we are confident that it will be dismissed in county court," Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said.

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