FRANKFORT, K.Y. — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit against Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis in an effort to recover costs from its recent legal battle over Davis’ refusal to issue marriage licenses to homosexuals as long as her name was on the document.
The ACLU is asking U.S. District Judge David Bunning to order Davis to pay up $233,058 in legal fees and other expenses, but Davis’ attorneys state that the organization isn’t entitled to the payment since Davis prevailed in the matter in the long run.
“Courts recognize that when successful civil rights plaintiffs obtain a direct benefit from a court-ordered victory, such as in this case, they can be entitled to their legal expenses to deter future civil rights violations by government officials,” William Sharp, legal director of the Kentucky ACLU, told reporters.
“The ACLU is not entitled to attorney’s fees according to the prevailing standard in the Sixth Circuit,” also remarked Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, in a statement. “Kim Davis won the case and the case is closed. County clerks are now able to perform their public service without being forced to compromise their religious liberty.”
As previously reported, Bunning dismissed the outstanding legal challenges against Davis this past August after the state legislature passed a law that removed the names of county clerks from all marriage licenses, thus assuaging Davis’ concerns.
“In light of these proceedings, and in view of the fact that the marriage licenses continue to be issued without incident, there no longer remains a case or controversy before the court,” he wrote.
Davis had been in national headlines last year after she declined to issue same-sex “marriage” licenses as long as her name was on the documents. Davis, who attends a Oneness Apostolic Pentecostal assembly, said that she would do so if her name was removed.
Her refusal soon led to three lawsuits—Miller v. Davis, Ermold v. Davis and Yates v. Davis—filed by homosexuals who sought to force Davis to issue the licenses.
The ACLU led the legal push, and in September 2015, U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered that Davis issue the licenses despite her religious identity. As she continued to refuse to issue the licenses without the accommodation, Bunning ordered that Davis be placed behind bars until she was willing to comply. In the meantime, the judge arranged for a deputy clerk to sign the licenses in her absence.
Davis was released from the Carter County Jail five days later after her attorneys filed an appeal of the contempt order, and also because Bunning was satisfied that her deputy clerks were providing the licenses instead. He stipulated her release on the condition that she not interfere with her deputies.
By the end of the year, new Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin issued an executive order for the Department for Libraries and Archives to release new licenses that do not cite the county or the name of the county clerk. Months later, the state legislature passed a law altering the licenses similar to Bevin’s order.
Because the matter was therefore settled in the legislature and not in the courts, Liberty Counsel believes that the ACLU is not entitled to any fees. See its rebuttal here.
“The door has been shut on the ACLU’s attempt to assess damages against Kim Davis,” Staver said. “Kim is a fiscally responsible elected official who is fulfilling her duty to protect public funds in this case.”
The Lexington Herald Leader also reports that Jeffrey Mando, an attorney for Rowan County, doesn’t believe the money should come from the county coffers as Davis’ actions were independent of the government.
“County clerks are not employees of the county, but instead are the holders of elective office pursuant to the Kentucky Constitution,” he wrote in a legal brief.