Idaho Must Pay Attorney Fees In Gay Marriage Case

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho must pay more than $400,000 to the team of lawyers who successfully fought to overturn the state's ban on gay marriage, a federal judge ruled.

In her decision, U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale awarded an amount that is about 10 percent less than what the six lawyers requested.

"Simply put, the case was neither easy nor ordinary," Dale wrote. "It is therefore not surprising that plaintiffs employed a team of experienced attorneys to divvy up the many legal tasks."

While Gov. Butch Otter and his legal team didn't dispute that the state should pay the lawyers' fees, they did argue that the lawyers took too much time communicating with one another and charged too much in hourly fees. State lawyers argued the amount, therefore, should be cut in half to $204,049.

Dale disagreed, saying that the complexity of the case warranted frequent communication and extra time to prepare for court appearances.

"Whatever this case lacked in procedural complications or disputed issues of material fact, it surely made up in legal complexity," Dale wrote. "After all, the case involved constitutional issues of first impression not only in Idaho, but in all district courts in the Ninth Circuit."

As of Monday morning, Otter's spokesman Jon Hanian said the governor's office hadn't seen Dale's ruling and did not have an immediate comment.

Idaho must pay the attorney fees in accordance with decades-old federal law because the gay marriage supporters prevailed in a case regarding civil rights violations. "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," Dale wrote, quoting a previous court ruling.

Dale did agree, in her decision filed Friday, with the state that the six attorneys did conduct some improper block-billing, meaning the counsel frequently lumped time spent drafting a document with time spent emailing their clients. But unlike the state's suggestion, Dale did not slash the bill hours by 25 percent but imposed a 10 percent reduction to the total hours billed.

Boise attorney and lead counsel Deborah Ferguson billed $400 an hour and recorded more than 600 hours while representing the four lesbian couples who first sued the state's same-sex marriage ban last year. Dale noted in her ruling that Ferguson has nearly 30 years of experience in civil litigation and is a former president of the Idaho State Bar.

Gay marriage became legal in Idaho on Oct. 15 after the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld Dale's ruling made last May declaring Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage violated the U.S. Constitution. However, Otter has since requested the 9th Circuit Court to reconsider while also announcing he plans on appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The amount covers the attorneys' fees only through late May. Ferguson and the rest of the attorneys will make another motion to cover the remaining expenses once the appeals have finalized.

As of late October, Idaho had already spent more than $80,000 on private attorneys in its attempt to defend Idaho's gay marriage.

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