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State’s legal fees near $500,000 defending same-sex marriage, revenge porn laws

campaign finance money flag capitolArizona taxpayers are going to pay about $500,000 – and perhaps a lot more – in legal fees to lawyers who beat the state in two separate lawsuits challenging Arizona laws.

U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick has approved the request of Shawn Aiken for more than $253,000 to cover the time and expenses in successfully contesting the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. The judge agreed to what Aiken said amounts to a discount based on the time spent on the case.

And that may not be the end of it. Jennifer Pizer, attorney for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which also was part of the challenge, has yet to submit the invoice for her own organization. And the fees for her organization could rival those the court approved for Aiken and his team.

Separately, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton has accepted a deal where the state agreed to pay another $202,000 in fees and costs to a group of lawyers that contested the legality of a law aimed at “revenge porn.”

In that case, Bolton never actually had to rule against the state. Instead, the Attorney General’s Office conceded earlier this year the statute was probably unconstitutional and unenforceable and agreed to waive the legal equivalent of a white flag.

The expenses could be just the beginning of what taxpayers have to shell out defending various recent laws and agency actions.

So far, courts have sided with those challenging the state’s efforts to deny driver’s licenses to those accepted into the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. And absent a ruling by an appellate court or the U.S. Supreme Court to the contrary, Arizona will wind up on the financial hook in that case.

There also are still two lawsuits pending over efforts by the state to deny the ability of the Tohono O’odham Nation to open a casino on the edge of Glendale.

One of those cases is before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a trial judge ruled against the state. The other case is set for a hearing before that same judge next month.

And none of that counts the costs the state itself has accumulated.

In his petition for fees, Aiken told Sedwick that he and other lawyers at his firm performed more than 881 hours of legal work totaling more than $240,000. But Aiken said his firm agreed to bill for only 582.7 hours, reducing that to $179,017.

Aiken did not work alone on behalf of the couples he represented. With the other firms involved, the total legal fees exceeded $252,400, plus out-of-pocket costs.

The other case stems from a defense of legislation crafted in 2014 by Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, designed to deal with so-called “revenge porn.”

That normally occurs when couples take photos of each other naked during a relationship, photos that end up on the Internet after the relationship ends badly. Mesnard said existing harassment laws do not make such activities illegal in Arizona.

The law made it a felony to “intentionally disclose, display, distribute, publish, advertise or offer” a photo, video, film or digital recording of someone else who is naked “if the person knows or should have known that the depicted person has not consented to the disclosure.” Offenders would face prison terms of up to 2 1/2 years – or 3 3/4 years if the person is recognizable.
The American Civil Liberties Union and book publishers sued, contending the statute was overly broad and would make criminals out of people doing otherwise legal things.

Lawyers for the state, recognizing the problems with the law, agreed last year not to enforce it to give the Legislature a chance to fix it. But the changes never got final Senate approval before lawmakers went home for the year.

At that point, the Attorney General’s Office agreed to give up the fight.

The $202,813 in legal fees and costs was a deal negotiated between the Attorney General’s Office and all of the attorneys.

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