It’s unlikely that Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration will pay the legal fees of the attorneys who sued the state over its same-sex marriage ban by Dec. 8, when Governor-elect Matt Bevin takes office.
Attorneys who defeated the ban — in a case that was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court — say they should get about $2.1 million in compensation. Beshear’s administration says that amount is unreasonable, and the two parties have gone back and forth without reaching an agreement.
Dan Canon, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the same-sex marriage lawsuit, said Beshear’s administration intends to “dump a problem they created on the incoming administration.”
“The Beshear administration created this problem by insisting upon litigating this case even after Attorney General [Jack] Conway called Kentucky’s laws what they are — discrimination,” Canon said in an email.
Conway declined to defend the same-sex marriage ban after it was struck down by a U.S. District Court in 2014, leading Beshear to hire Ashland law firm VanAntwerp Attorneys. That firm is on a $260,000 contract to defend the state against the suit.
“Instead of paying private lawyers with taxpayer dollars to continue fighting a battle that the administration has lost every step of the way, they have the ability to resolve this issue now,” Canon said.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys from Michigan and Ohio, who challenged same-sex marriage bans their states to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and eventually the Supreme Court alongside the Kentucky case, have already been compensated. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration paid out $1.9 million in plaintiffs’ legal expenses. In Ohio, led by Gov. John Kasich, also a presidential candidate, the administration paid out $1.3 million.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys in Tennessee, who were also part of the case through the Sixth Circuit and Supreme Court, have requested $2.3 million, but no amount has been paid yet.
Beshear said the Kentucky plaintiffs’ fee request is unreasonable.
“Absent some agreement, the court will decide the fee amounts to be paid,” he said in an email. “While there have been some settlement discussions, no agreement has been reached.”
Beshear maintains that it was good to defend the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage so the nation’s high court could determine whether such laws are constitutional.
“At the time of the appeal, fractured laws and court decisions across the country concerning same-sex marriage had created an unsustainable and unbalanced legal environment, and there was the opportunity for legal chaos,” Beshear said. “Kentuckians — indeed all Americans — needed a clear and certain roadmap. The U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion this summer finally provided that clarity.”
Incoming Gov. Bevin’s administration did not respond to a request for comment.
In addition to Canon, the attorneys seeking compensation on the Kentucky case include Laura Landenwich, Joe Dunman, James Esseks, Chase Strangio, Joshua Block, Jeffrey L. Fisher, Dawn Elliott and Shannon Fauver.