BISMARCK - A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the state of North Dakota to pay more than $57,000 in attorneys' fees and costs to lawyers who represented a Fargo couple who filed one of two lawsuits in June 2014 challenging the state's gay marriage ban.
U.S. Chief District Judge Ralph Erickson awarded the attorneys for Janet Jorgensen and Cynthia Phillips a total of $57,351, less than half of what they requested.
The couple was represented by national gay rights group Lambda Legal and the Faegre Baker Daniels law firm, which together had sought more than $124,000 in fees and costs - a figure the state argued was unreasonable.
The attorneys sought reimbursement for hourly rates of $265 to $395 per hour, but Erickson wrote that "based on the recycled and straightforward nature of the legal issues in this case," an hourly rate in excess of $250 per hour "is simply unreasonable and not justified."
Erickson noted that some of the hours billed on the case were unnecessary or duplicative, and that North Dakota was the last state in the country to face a challenge to its same-sex marriage ban.
"Simply put, this case was not a trailblazing case on the issues presented," he wrote. "Moreover, the hours billed by the attorneys reflect an excessive amount of time spent on simple issues such as an extension of a deadline or to request a stay be lifted. The billing also reflects an excessive amount of duplicative efforts on issues that had been raised an inordinate amount of times in other cases."
The state agreed in August to pay $58,000 in attorneys' fees and costs in the other lawsuit that was filed on behalf of seven same-sex couples who challenged the ban, which became void when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage on June 26. Erickson approved that agreement on Sept. 14.