Kentucky taxpayers owe $2.3 million in fees in same-sex marriage case

Attorneys who successfully challenged Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage have submitted a bill for more than $2 million in legal fees, court costs and related expenses. The state of Kentucky, as the losing party in the case, gets stuck with the tab under federal civil-rights law.

Also, the private attorneys hired by Gov. Steve Beshear to handle the state's appeals in the case have a $260,000 contract, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. According to state records, $231,348 had been paid by July 20.

The total cost to Kentucky taxpayers is $2,351,297, the newspaper reported.

Beshear said in a statement Monday he will challenge the plaintiffs' legal bill as “unreasonable.” U.S. District Judge Charles R. Simpson III gets the final say on the matter.

The governor acknowledged the state must pay “reasonable attorneys’ fees” to the winning side.

“The key word here is reasonable,” Beshear said in the statement. “We will be contesting those amounts as unreasonable. Until these issues are resolved, we will not know the overall cost.”

So far, courts have ruled for lawyers representing the same-sex couples. Last year, U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II, who died in April, awarded the lawyers $70,778 in legal fees and court costs for the early stage of their fight in District Court. On his own initiative, Heyburn tossed in a $10,000 bonus, saying the lawyers “undertook a difficult, unpopular case and achieved remarkable success.” That award was put on hold pending the appeals.

In their filing Friday in U.S. District Court in Louisville, nine attorneys for the same-sex couples specified who worked how many hours as two separate lawsuits wound their way through the District Court, the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The nation’s high court ultimately struck down Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Lawyers from the Louisville firms of Clay Daniel Walton and Adams, and the Fauver Law Office led the challenge of Kentucky's ban on same-sex marriage, assisted by the ACLU and the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic. They worked long hours without pay and underwent severe scrutiny, including some harassing calls and mail to their homes and offices, the lawyers said.

Someone threw a bottle of water at one of the couples’ attorneys, Dawn Elliott, in Trimble County. Another, Laura Landenwich, received a crudely drawn religious, anti-gay comic book at her home. The comic's first panel showed the Grim Reaper waving a bony hand and saying, “Hi there!”

“It’s not that bad when that sort of thing comes to the office, but it’s a little different when someone takes the time to send it to your home,” Landenwich said Monday.

The lawyers asked for nearly $1.16 million in fees and costs, brought to $2.09 million by a “fee enhancer” that recognizes the challenges they faced and the degree of their success.

“In this case, plaintiffs prevailed on all of their claims as argued in the appellate courts, and received the precise relief sought by their clients, without qualification or reservation of any kind,” the couples' attorneys wrote.

“This case, which has often been referred to as the ‘most important civil rights case in a generation,’ will also have a profound effect on the rights of gay men and lesbians well into the future, both in the United States and internationally,” the lawyers wrote. “It is almost impossible to speak of the case in terms that do not sound hyperbolic, but to label it a ‘total victory’ is not unwarranted.”

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