Michigan pays $1.9M in legal fees for gay marriage case

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

The state of Michigan has paid the nearly $2 million legal tab for the Michigan couple whose lawsuit helped clear the way for same-sex couples to legally marry.

The state was on the hook for the legal bill of the Hazel Park couple, April and Jayne DeBoer-Rowse, who challenged the state’s 2004 ban on gay marriage in a landmark federal lawsuit brought in 2012.

Michigan paid just over $1.9 million in fees as requested by their legal team. Officials for the state of Michigan signed a stipulation in the case in late August agreeing to pay the fees.

Attorney General Bill Schuette vigorously defended the 2004 voter-approved gay marriage ban, which was struck down as unconstitutional.

Schuette’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The couple were represented by local attorneys Dana Nessel and Carole Stanyar. Other attorneys, such as Boston attorney Mary Bonauto, the legal director for the Civil Rights Project of the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, later joined the legal team for the historic case.

Stanyar said the case brought great personal sacrifice.

“Four years without a paycheck, fronting costs in a case of this magnitude, was certainly hard on our families,” Stanyar said Wednesday, on the day she received the final payment. “The fee statute was enacted to empower and encourage the vindication of civil rights. I do feel empowered, and very encouraged. So I guess the law is working as Congress intended.

“If our case motivates younger lawyers to stand up for people, do the right the thing, that would be great.”

The couple, who legally married in August, won their lawsuit when a ruling in June by the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in the United States as a result of the lawsuit brought by the couple and others in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Taxpayers also paid $96,000 to John Bursch, a lawyer hired by Schuette to defend the gay marriage ban.

The federal lawsuit included a two-week trial before U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman who ruled the state’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional.

Conservative economists and social scientists hired by the state for the 2014 trial were paid $148,000.

Friedman officiated at DeBoer’s and Rowse’s wedding in Southfield.

During the ceremony, Friedman told the crowd the couple is owed “a big debt of gratitude” for fighting for their constitutional rights in their lawsuit.

“Every citizen of the United States that appreciates what our forefathers have done in equal protection ... everyone of us owes you a big debt of gratitude,” Friedman said.


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The Associated Press contributed.

Defense costs

The attorneys representing April DeBoer and Jane Rowse in Michigan’s same-sex marriage case each charged $350 an hour:

■Carole Stanyar, 2,182.5 hours, $763,875 fee

■Dana Nessel, 1,165.10 hours, $407,785 fee

■Kenneth Mogill, 1,011.2, $353,920 fee

■Mary Bonauto, 796.7 hours, $278,845 fee

■Robert Sedler, 286.6 hours, $100,310 fee

■Vickie Henry, 31 hours, $10,850 fee

Source: U.S. District Court