BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho will pay roughly $900,000 in legal fees using the state's Constitutional Defense Fund after recently losing three key lawsuits, including covering the plaintiff's costs in the state's failed attempt to uphold its same-sex marriage ban.
The fund will also cover fees for the winning plaintiffs in a case that overturned an anti-abortion law and another case where the state sought to restrict protesters from camping near the Statehouse.
Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden unanimously voted Monday to use the fund to cover the court-ordered attorneys' fees and costs. However, doing so reduced the fund from $1.2 million to about $300,000.
"You're going to have to ask the lawyers why we're losing," Otter said. "But I can tell you that in every case, we were either defending statutes or our Constitution. That's why it was appropriate."
Otter added that he will ask lawmakers to boost the fund back up to the million-dollar range at the beginning of the 2016 legislative session, which got an endorsement from Hill.
The Constitutional Defense Fund was created in 1995 to defend the state's legal rights against the federal government. According to Idaho law, the fund is for "restoring, maintaining and advancing the sovereignty and authority over issues that affect this state and the well-being of its citizens."
The fund was originally allocated $1 million, but it was slowly depleted after being used to pay for legal expenses for Idaho's 1990s battles over accepting nuclear waste shipments, as well as settlements with Planned Parenthood in 2008, according to a list of the fund's expenditures.
In 2014, two Democratic state lawmakers opposed replenishing the fund by $1 million, arguing that they didn't want to use taxpayer dollars to defend Idaho's gay marriage ban. On Monday, the latest court order was $226,891 to pay the plaintiffs who successfully fought to overturn Idaho's same-sex marriage ban, bumping the total to more than $628,000 Idaho has spent to the winning plaintiffs on that case.
For the anti-abortion law case, Idaho was ordered to pay more than $500,000 to the attorneys who overturned several Idaho laws, including the measure that banned all abortions after 20 weeks.
The remaining court-ordered $137,300 — plus interest — will be paid to the attorneys who fought state laws and rules that were quickly passed in response to the 2012 Occupy Boise protests, which sought to deter demonstrators from both camping and protesting for long periods of time near the Capitol. A handful of the rules were upheld, but the court ultimately struck down the no-camping ban.
"We get sued by so many people we can't keep track," Otter said.
Otter declined to say if the fund will be used in the decision striking down Idaho's law that made it illegal to surreptitiously videotape agricultural operations. A federal judge ruled last week that the law violated the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, but the state has not decided if it will appeal the decision.