BOISE – The state of Idaho must pay more than $400,000 in attorney fees and costs to the lawyers who represented four lesbian couples in overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
“There is no dispute that Plaintiffs are the prevailing parties and are therefore entitled to an award of reasonable attorney fees and litigation expenses,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale wrote 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 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 ruling.
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. The state appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals but lost there, too. Idaho has asked 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 defend the ban, in addition to 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.
Ferguson called the fee order “reasonable and fair” and noted that her clients prevailed on all issues in the case.
Otter said Monday that he wasn’t ready to comment on the order and planned to consult with the members of Idaho’s Constitutional Defense Council, which oversees a fund that’s been tapped six times in the past decade to cover similar awards of attorney fees in constitutional law cases. The fund currently has a balance of more than $1.7 million; lawmakers added another $1 million last year, at Otter’s urging.
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