The two sets of winning attorneys in South Carolina’s landmark gay marriage lawsuits want a total of $244,338 in legal fees for their victories in federal court over Attorney General Alan Wilson and Gov. Nikki Haley.
That money apparently will come from taxpayers, although the two federal judges in the cases have not yet issued final orders for Haley and Wilson to pay the lawyers. “The attorney general’s office objects to paying legal fees in these cases, and we will continue to object,” a spokesman for Wilson said Tuesday.
Asked how much Wilson has spent using his in-house lawyers to fight the historic losing legal battles, his spokesman said, “Our office doesn’t have a mechanism for calculating the costs of these or any other any cases.”
Lawyers for Katherine Bradacs and Tracie Goodwin Bradacs, who live with their three children in Lexington County, are requesting $91,627 for their attorney fees and other costs.
Lawyers for Anne Nichols Bleckley and Colleen Condon, who live in Charleston County, are requesting $152,709 in fees.
Haley was a defendant in the Bradacs lawsuit but not in the Bleckley-Condon lawsuit.
The two lawsuits each posed one of the two questions addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court when that court ruled, 6-1, in their favor in June.
The Bradacs, who were legally married in the District of Columbia, were seeking the right to have their marriage legally recognized by South Carolina. Bleckley and Condon were seeking the right to get married in South Carolina, but the Charleston County probate judge refused to issue them a marriage license.
In June, the Supreme Court ruled on both those issues, saying that states had to give full recognition to legal same-sex marriages performed in other states and the District of Columbia, and also ruling that states could not deny same-sex couples the right to marry.
Earlier, federal judges in South Carolina had ruled in favor of the Bradacs and Bleckley and Condon at the district court level.
John Nichols, one of the winning attorneys along with Carrie Warner in the Bradacs case, told The State newspaper if Wilson chooses to fight the judge’s final award, the winning attorneys will have no choice but to contest Wilson, and that will likely cost more in legal fees.
Malissa Burnette, one of several lawyers representing Condon and Bleckley, said, “It truly is a shame that even after the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of marriage equality, the attorney general on behalf of South Carolina is denying that we won and asserting that they should not pay the legal fees of the plaintiff who won.”
Burnette, who worked with Columbia lawyers Vickie Eslinger and Nekki Shutt on the case, said if Wilson refuses to pay after getting a judge’s order to pay, her team will have no choice but to appeal, which would be an added eventual expense to taxpayers. “Why do they continue to waste taxpayers’ money?” Burnette said.
Judge Michelle Childs of Columbia presided in the Bradacs case; Judge Richard Gergel of Charleston presided in the Bleckley and Condon case.
Paying lawyers’ fees
This is not the first case in recent years that has resulted in the state paying money in a lawsuit it has either settled or lost.
▪ In 2014, the state paid out some $510,000 to settle and defend a case in which Occupy Columbia protesters had sued over their right to demonstrate on State House grounds. About $306,000 went to six private law firms hired to defend the state. The remaining $204,000 went to 15 protesters and paid for their legal expenses.
▪ In 2013, most of the $3.5 million the state spent to fight, unsuccessfully, a federal challenge to its Voter ID law went to attorneys.