Politics & Government

Judge rejects Matt Bevin’s appeal, says Kentucky still owes money for Kim Davis

A federal judge has reaffirmed that Kentucky taxpayers are on the hook for nearly $225,000 in legal fees and court costs owed to couples who sued Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in 2015 over the right to get marriage licenses.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning, who originally made the decision on legal fees and costs in July, restated it in a sharply worded 14-page opinion handed down Monday after attorneys for Gov. Matt Bevin had asked him to reconsider. Bevin fell “woefully short” of convincing him to change his mind, Bunning wrote.

“At most, (Bevin’s lawyers) have simply — and improperly — re-argued matters that have previously been decided,” Bunning wrote.

In July, Bunning ruled that the state of Kentucky, not Davis herself or Rowan County, must pay the couples who sued her for marriage licenses while Davis was staging a one-woman protest of the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage during the summer of 2015.

Although Kentucky county clerks are elected at the county level, the Rowan County Fiscal Court had no influence over Davis’ actions, Bunning wrote. Therefore, it would be unfair to hold the county government responsible for her actions, he wrote.

By contrast, Bunning wrote, Davis’ authority to issue marriage licenses was awarded to her by the state government.

The state, Bunning wrote, could have pursued criminal penalties against Davis for official misconduct — then-Attorney General Jack Conway, running for governor in 2015, refused a formal request to do so — or the legislature could have impeached Davis and removed her from office. Instead, the legislature not only declined to impeach Davis, it “modified the marriage license form to appease Davis” by removing county clerks’ names as she requested, he wrote.

When he ran for governor in 2015, Bevin praised Davis for protesting the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision and posed for photographs with her. After Bunning jailed her briefly for contempt of court for refusing to issue marriage licenses, Bevin called it “reprehensible” and “unconscionable” and called it “a matter of religious liberty.”

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis emerged from the Carter County jail in 2015 flanked by Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and her attorney, who pledged that Davis would continue her stand against same-sex marriage.

John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics