Michigan’s loss in gay marriage fight could cost $2M

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — Lawyers for a Hazel Park couple who helped legalize same-sex marriage across the nation asked a federal judge Saturday to force the state to pay more than $1.9 million in legal fees.

The request puts a price-tag on the state of Michigan’s failed opposition to a landmark case that lasted more than three years. It comes almost exactly one month after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in the United States.

Court records describe a shoestring battle and hardship endured by lawyers whose clients couldn't afford the fight. One lawyer sold her house to keep alive a case that ended in a landmark ruling.

Lawyers for Hazel Park couple April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, whose relationship was at the heart of the Supreme Court case, said if anyone is suffering from sticker shock over the legal fees, blame the state for waging a protracted fight.

“This case was both rare and difficult because plaintiffs’ counsel were defending members of an historically unpopular minority,” lawyers Carole Stanyar and Dana Nessel wrote in a federal court filing Saturday. “Although public opinion has shifted considerably in the years that this case has been pending, when filed, a decided majority of the Michigan population were opposed to marriage by same-sex couples.”

There was no immediate comment from spokeswomen for Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney Bill Schuette, the public official who served as the face of opposition in the case.

Last month, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, a ruling that President Barack Obama called a “victory for America.”

The couple’s legal team justified asking for $1,927,450 in fees by citing the complex nature of the case. That included a two-week trial in federal court in Detroit, an appeal and argument in front of the Supreme Court.

The request includes fees for six lawyers even though the couple’s legal team included eight attorneys, seven law clerks, multiple paralegals and experts from Boston, New York, San Francisco and Lansing. The six lawyers each billed $350 an hour.

“The questions presented were unquestionably novel, complex and difficult,” the couple’s lawyers wrote. “This was the first trial in history challenging the Michigan Marriage Amendment, and Michigan’s statutory marriage and second-parent adoption bans.”

Rowse and DeBoer were unable to pay their lawyers, Stanyar wrote in a filing Saturday. Stanyar said she sold her house to help bankroll the historic legal fight.

She said the fee request likely will be among the largest, if not the largest, legal bill tied to the marriage equality fight nationwide.

“Raising the funds for this litigation was exceedingly difficult,” she wrote. “This was a difficult, hotly contested ,emotion-charged lawsuit from start to finish…”

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