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Eye On Boise

Court orders Idaho to pay more than $400K in attorney fees, costs to prevailing side in gay marriage case

The state of Idaho must pay more than $400,000 in attorney fees and costs to the lawyers who represented the four lesbian couples who successfully sued to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, a federal court has ruled. “There is no dispute that Plaintiffs are the prevailing parties and are therefore entitled to an award of reasonable attorney fees and litigation expenses,” wrote U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale, in an order issued late Friday.

The lawyers had sought $467,843; the state’s lawyers had argued for cutting that by more than half to $204,049. But Dale ruled that with only a few small exceptions, the legal team led by Boise attorney Deborah Ferguson was entitled to the amounts it claimed, setting the payment at $401,663. “In order to ensure that lawyers would be willing to represent persons with legitimate civil rights grievances, Congress determined that it would be necessary to compensate lawyers for all time reasonably expended on a case,” the judge wrote, quoting a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court case.

The four couples won their case in U.S. District Court last May, when Dale ruled that Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and due process guarantees and overturned it. The state appealed to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, but lost there, too. It now has a pending request for the 9th Circuit to reconsider its ruling, and has announced plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho in October.

Idaho already has spent nearly $87,000 on private attorneys to help with its court fight to defend the ban, in addition to its in-house counsel costs; that figure was tallied before Gov. Butch Otter’s filing last week to the U.S. Supreme Court asking the high court to wait for Idaho’s case before taking up the gay marriage issue. The state didn’t dispute that the couples’ lawyers were owed fees and costs, but it argued they should be paid for fewer hours and at lower rates. You can read my full story here at, and read the judge’s ruling here.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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