July 22 (UPI) -- A federal judge ruled that the state of Kentucky is required to pay legal fees to couples who sued Rowan County clerk Kim Davis to attain marriage licenses.
District Judge David Bunning ruled Friday the state will pay almost $225,000 in legal fees and court costs to the plaintiffs in the case against Davis after she halted her office from issuing marriage licenses following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that legalized same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015.
Bunning's decision stated it would be unfair to hold Rowan County or Davis herself responsible for the fees, because the state awarded her the authority to issue marriage licenses and the couples prevailed in the case against Davis in her "official capacity" as a public official.
"Davis represented the Commonwealth of Kentucky when she refused to issue marriage licenses to legally eligible couples. The buck stops there," the judge wrote.
He added that the plaintiffs April Miller, Karen Ann Roberts, Shantel Burke, Stephen Napier, Jody Fernandez, Kevin Holloway, L. Aaron Skaggs and Barry W. Spartman, clearly "won the war" by emerging victorious from the lawsuit, which by law entitled them to to be compensated for bringing their case.
"The plaintiffs prevailed by every measure of victory," Bunning said. "Plaintiffs obtained marriage licenses that could not be revoked. And two of the plaintiff-couples married on those licenses. That is enduring relief. There is nothing more the court could do."
Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, which represented Davis in the case, said the counsel was pleased its client wasn't responsible for the debt but argued the lawsuit was moot because Davis received the accommodation she sought
He said Bunning was incorrect in declaring the plaintiffs the prevailing parties as the General Assembly eventually passed a law providing the religious liberty accommodation to remove the names of clerks from marriage license form and added the group would appeal the decision to have the state pay the court fees.
"Without prevailing party status, there can be no attorneys' fees," Staver said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky praised the ruling, stating it should serve as a message to voters and state officials.
"It is unfortunate that Kentucky taxpayers will likely bear the financial burden of the unlawful actions and litigation strategies of an elected official, but those same voters are free to take that information into account at the ballot box," ACLU legal director William Sharp said.