Judge awards couples who sued Kim Davis more than $200,000 in fees

Kim Davis Photo: WTVQ / MGN
Kim Davis Photo: WTVQ / MGN(KALB)
Published: Jul. 21, 2017 at 11:37 AM EDT
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A judge has issued a ruling in federal court requiring the state to pay money to couples who were denied marriage licenses by the Rowan County clerk.

In June of 2015, Kim Davis refused to issue a marriage license to several same-sex couples on the heels of a federal ruling legalizing gay marriage. The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of the couples; April Miller and Karen Roberts, Shantel Burke and Stephen Napier, Jody Fernandez and Kevin Holloway, and L. Aaron Skaggs and Barry W. Spartman.

U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning ruled against Davis, awarding the couples more than $222, 695 in attorneys' fees and $2,008.08 in costs to the plaintiffs.

"We are pleased with today's ruling, and we hope this serves as a reminder to Kentucky officials that willful violations of individuals' civil liberties, such as what occurred here, will not only be challenged but will also prove costly," said William Sharp, legal director ACLU of Kentucky. He added, "It is unfortunate that Kentucky taxpayers will likely bear the financial burden of the unlawful actions and litigation strategies of an elected official, but those same voters are free to take that information into account at the ballot box."

“We are pleased that neither Kim Davis nor Rowan County are liable for attorney’s fees or costs,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, who represented Kim Davis. “The part of the ruling that finds the plaintiffs were prevailing parties is contrary to the law because the legislature mooted the case by passing a law that provides for the precise religious liberty accommodation Kim Davis sought. While Kim Davis and Rowan County are not liable for fees and costs, neither is the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and this aspect of the ruling will be appealed,” Staver said. “The Magistrate correctly found that the plaintiffs were not the prevailing parties. That ruling is consistent with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Governor Matt Bevin’s executive order and the legislature mooted the case and prevents the plaintiffs from being prevailing parties. Without prevailing party status, there can be no attorney’s fees,” said Staver.

Woody Maglinger, Governor Matt Bevin's press secretary, released a statement saying: "The state’s outside counsel in the case are reviewing the opinion, and no determination has been made regarding an appeal."

Judge David Bunning wrote in his decision that county clerks are generally classified as 'county officials,' but that Kim Davis represented the Commonwealth of Kentucky by issuing - or not issuing - marriage licenses. He ruled that Davis' authority over marriage licenses came from the state, and that the state could have taken action against her when she refused to issue them.

"Davis represented the Commonwealth of Kentucky when she refused to issue marriage licenses to legally eligible couples," the court order reads. "The buck stops there."

In the county that elected Kim Davis, opinions still vary on her actions. But most people WKYT's Garrett Wymer talked to around town on Friday evening were upset about the ruling, for one reason or another.

"That's not what tax dollars should be for," one woman said. "I don't think that state tax dollars should have to go to pay for private lawsuits against any individual."

Other folks said they just do not like that their tax dollars have to go to a situation that they say never should have happened in the first place.

One Twitter user tweeted at WKYT's Garrett Wymer that the cost should be taken out of Davis' salary.