Aaron and Melissa Klein, the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, have so far refused to pay the $135,000 fine for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple and inflicting intentional emotional distress by publishing their names and home address online. The fine, levied by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, has been unpaid for nearly three months, while the Kleins make the rounds of religious conservative conferences and gatherings, and rake in donations.
The couple scored a bonanza of more than $500,000 via an online fundraiser established by the religious right to pay the couple's fees. Yet in a court filing, the Kleins argue that the fine of $135,000 levied July 2 is excessive and would lead to "financial ruin," according to Oregon newspaper Willamette Week.
BOLI commissioner Brad Avakian denied the request, pointing out the money the couple raised via crowdfunding sites and ordering that the money they owed be held in escrow, as the Kleins appeal the decision to the Oregon Court of Appeals.
Emails obtained by Willamette Week show a back-and-forth between the couple's attorney and Jenn Gaddis, the chief prosecutor in BOLI's administrative prosecution unit. Gaddis tried to settle the case by finding ways the Kleins could "satisfy their obligation without putting up cash," to no avail.
"If we can come to agreement on the terms and conditions of a bond or irrevocable letter of credit," Gaddis said in an email to the Kleins' attorneys, "the agency will stay collection of the emotional distress damages from your client."
The Kleins' lawyers responded, "Our clients do not have a bond or irrevocable letter of credit in place and have no further plans to obtain one."
"Please inform the agency of when your clients will tender payment," Gaddis responded. "Otherwise we have no other option but to docket the judgement against them. It is unfortunate that they will not seek the bond or irrevocable letter of credit, that you had initially stated they were interested in seeking, when they have clearly raised close to $500,000 with which to pay the damage award."
The Kleins' refusal puts them at risk of a lien on their property or seizure of assets.
The bulk of the fine levied against the bakery owners was for infliction of emotional distress. The couple published the names and home address of the lesbian couple who filed the complaint, leading to death threats and constant harassment from the religious right.
While the Kleins have dodged the fine, they are not staying out of the limelight. The couple attended last week's Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., where they and antigay Kentucky clerk Kim Davis were feted. It's the second straight year the Kleins spoke at the religious conservative-oriented event.