Lawyers Who Won Oregon Marriage Equality About to See Payday

By Matt Baume

Originally published on Advocate.com August 22 2014 7:18 PM ET

The state of Oregon will pay at least $133,657 to the attorneys representing same-sex couples in the successful challenge to the state's anti–marriage equality law, though that figure could climb to more than $300,000, reports The Oregonian

Federal judge Michael McShane, who earlier this year overturned the state's marriage ban, ruled this week that the award should be split by three lawyers from three separate firms.

A fleet of attorneys contributed to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Oregon, finalized in May of this year, and state law allows winning parties to collect legal fees in cases concerning civil rights.

According to McShane's decision, lead attorney Lake Perriguey will receive $75,000, or $350 per hour. This amount reflects a 25 percent discount on Perriguey's regular fees.

Another $51,390 will go to Lea Ann Easton, who billed at $300 per hour and provided numerous services at no charge.

A third attorney, Sage Teton, will receive $6,300 at $175 per hour.

Marriage equality came to Oregon in May as the result of two federal lawsuits. The $133,657 payout reflect legal fees for the first lawsuit filed, Geiger v. Kitzhaber.

The second case, Rummell and West v. Kitzhaber, was filed by state LGBT organization Basic Rights Education Fund. That organization has also requested payment from the state, and negotiations on the exact dollar figure are ongoing. The attorneys in the case have indicated that they provided $200,000 worth of services for the case and that they would donate any repayment of that figure to the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has numerous marriage cases pending in other states, so a payout from the state of Oregon could wind up contributing toward the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide.

McShane merged the two cases in January and issued a consolidated ruling May 19, finding the state's marriage ban is unconstitutional. Ordinarily, that kind of ruling would be appealed by the state. But Oregon attorney general Ellen Rosenblum agreed that the law was unconstitutional and refused to defend it in court, effectively ending the litigation. Rosenblum is one of just a few attorneys general nationwide to have made that decision, along with California's Kamala Harris and now-governor Jerry Brown as well as North Carolina's Roy Cooper, Pennsylvania's Kathleen Kane, Kentucky's Jack Conway, and Virginia's Mark Herring.

Had Rosenblum appealed the decision, the attorney's fees would have been exponentially higher. Bringing a case to the U.S. Supreme Court can cost millions of dollars.

After Rosenblum's announcement, the National Organization for Marriage attempted to intervene in Oregon but was denied by McShane and then again by the U.S. Supreme Court. NOM's handling of the Oregon litigation was unusually problematic, with its attempt to intervene coming far too late to be considered, and without naming any particular defendants willing to claim they'd been harmed by same-sex couples wanting to marry. NOM also suggested that McShane was unqualified to rule because he is gay, which the court rejected.

Contributor: 
Matt Baume