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Eye On Boise

Constitutional Defense Council votes to pay Navy vet’s legal fees in same-sex burial case

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, left, Gov. Butch Otter, center, and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, right, meet as the Constitutional Defense Council on Wednesday. (Betsy Z. Russell)
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, left, Gov. Butch Otter, center, and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, right, meet as the Constitutional Defense Council on Wednesday. (Betsy Z. Russell)

It took less than 5 minutes today for the state’s Constitutional Defense Council – which consists of the governor, the Attorney General, the speaker of the House and the president pro-tem of the Senate – to vote unanimously to pay the state’s latest bill for attorney fees and costs for the other side in a court case the state lost. In this case, it was the case of Madelynn Lee Taylor, a Navy veteran who sued after the state Veterans Cemetery initially refused to allow her to be interred there with the ashes of her late wife, Jean Mixner, citing the state’s then-ban on same-sex marriage.

“This is a legitimate claim against the state,” Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said. “The court has found against the state. It’s a proper expense for the Constitutional Defenses Fund.”

“We went through a legal process, and our case didn’t have as much merit as theirs,” Gov. Butch Otter said after the short meeting. “So we lost the case and they were awarded costs and fees, so we have to pay ‘em.” Asked if this routine is getting familiar – Idaho has had a series of court losses in which it’s been ordered to pay the other sides costs and fees – Otter chuckled ruefully, and said, “We’ve got more of those coming.”

Still in the pipeline is the case that overturned Idaho’s “ag-gag” law, which criminalized surreptitious videotaping of agricultural operations; a federal court held that the law violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Also, Idaho lost a case in the Idaho Supreme Court over Otter’s belated veto of legislation to ban instant racing gambling machines; the court ordered the state to pay the other side’s attorney fees, but the state is now arguing the other side, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, missed a filing deadline so the state shouldn’t have to pay the $95,000 in question.

In the Taylor case, the Constitutional Defense Council today – with House Speaker Scott Bedke missing but all other members present – voted to pay $70,000 in attorney fees to Ferguson Durham of Boise and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, plus interest from the date of judgment at an annual rate of 0.33 percent.



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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