Gov. Steve Beshear's administration has spent $195,400 on private lawyers to defend Kentucky's same-sex marriage ban in court, with more legal bills expected, according to records released Wednesday.
Over the past year, Beshear has defended the marriage ban from three separate challenges filed by same-sex couples in federal and state courts. He is represented by the Ashland law firm of VanAntwerp Attorneys LP, previously known as VanAntwerp Monge Jones Edwards & McCann.
The two federal lawsuits were heard April 28 by the U.S. Supreme Court, with a decision expected by the end of June. The state case yielded a ruling April 16 by Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate that struck down Kentucky's ban as unconstitutional for violating same-sex couples' "right to equal protection under the law." However, Wingate put his decision on hold until the Supreme Court weighs in.
Attorney General Jack Conway initially defended Kentucky's marriage ban after the first lawsuits were filed in 2013. But Conway dropped out in March 2014, following a ruling by U.S. District Judge John Heyburn II of Louisville in favor of same-sex couples who were seeking Kentucky's recognition of their legally performed marriages from other places.
"From a constitutional perspective, Judge Heyburn got it right, and in light of other recent federal decisions, these laws likely will not survive on appeal," Conway told reporters at the time. "We cannot waste the resources of the office of the attorney general pursuing a case we are unlikely to win."
Beshear has awarded two legal contracts to VanAntwerp Attorneys worth a total of $260,000. The most recent invoice submitted by the law firm covers work through March 31, which excludes last month's appearance before the Supreme Court, according to the state Finance and Administration Cabinet.
If the same-sex couples prevail at the Supreme Court this summer, Kentucky could be ordered, under the rules of civil rights law, to pay their legal bills, too. Last May, Heyburn awarded the plaintiffs' lawyers $70,778 in attorneys' fees and court costs. On his own initiative, Heyburn tossed in a $10,000 bonus, saying the lawyers "undertook a difficult, unpopular case and achieved remarkable success." That award is on hold pending the appeals.
Joe Dunman, one of five Louisville attorneys representing the same-sex couples in federal court, said Wednesday he could not estimate what the plaintiffs' final expenses would be.