Judge Orders Kentucky to Pay $224,000 in Legal Fees After Dispute Over Same-sex Marriage

The Rowan County clerk, Kim Davis, right, with David Moore after her refusal to issue marriage licenses in Morehead, Ky., in 2015.
Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press

A federal judge on Friday ordered Kentucky to pay more than $224,000 in legal fees and costs because one of its county clerks had refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The order, handed down by Judge David L. Bunning of United States District Court, moved the protracted case one step closer to conclusion, about two years after the Rowan County Clerk, Kim Davis, defied a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2015 and decided not to issue the marriage licenses.

Ms. Davis’s actions, which came at a watershed moment for gay rights advocates, reverberated across the country and led to lawsuits, the passage of a new Kentucky state law and resulted in Ms. Davis being briefly sent to jail for contempt of court.

By Friday, Judge Bunning noted in his 50-page order, the case had finally “boiled down to a single remaining issue: attorney’s fees.”

The fees became an issue after the Kentucky General Assembly passed a law in the spring of 2016 that removed county clerks’ names from marriage license forms. The law rendered appeals connected to the case moot.

But the plaintiffs in the case filed a motion for lawyers’ fees shortly thereafter; a magistrate judge later recommended that the court deny the plaintiffs’ motion for such fees.

But in his order, Judge Bunning rejected the magistrate’s recommendations, finding instead that the couples who had sued Ms. Davis had “prevailed” in the case, which entitled them to lawyers’ fees. He also found that the Commonwealth of Kentucky — not Ms. Davis or Rowan County — must pay them.

“In this case, the plaintiffs ‘prevailed by every measure of victory,’” Judge Bunning wrote. “Plaintiffs obtained marriage licenses that could not be revoked. And two of the plaintiff-couples married on those licenses. That is enduring relief.”

“Davis represented the Commonwealth of Kentucky when she refused to issue marriage licenses to legally eligible couples,” Judge Bunning continued. “The buck stops there.”

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SOURCE: NY Times, Matt Stevens