Lawyers seek $49,754 in fees

Firm represented gays in challenge to state marriage laws

Attorneys who represented two same-sex couples who successfully challenged the constitutionality of Arkansas' same-sex marriage bans in federal court are seeking attorneys' fees of $49,754.

Jack Wagoner of Little Rock -- whose law firm represented plaintiffs Rita and Pam Jernigan, and Becca and Tara Austin -- said in a motion filed Tuesday that the amount includes $30,024.87 to reimburse the Arkansas Public Law Center. He said the center -- a nonprofit, nonpartisan, tax-exempt advocacy organization dedicated to public justice and civil rights in Arkansas -- paid that amount to his firm to cover all out-of-pocket expenses and to compensate attorneys at a reduced rate of $100 an hour.

Wagoner asked U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker to rule for reimbursing the center and awarding an extra $19,729.13 to compensate the attorneys in his firm for the difference between the rate they were paid by the center and their standard hourly rates.

The Arkansas attorney general's office defended the same-sex marriage bans in district court -- where Baker ruled in the plaintiffs' favor Nov. 25 -- and then filed an unsuccessful appeal with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. The office is expected to respond to the request before Baker decides whether the state must reimburse the plaintiffs, and if so, how much.

The attorney general's office has objected to requests from Wagoner's firm and attorney Cheryl Maples for reimbursement of attorneys' fees in a similar lawsuit with 43 plaintiffs that was simultaneously pursued in Pulaski County Circuit Court.

That lawsuit, initially filed by Maples and later joined by Wagoner, led Circuit Judge Chris Piazza to strike down the same-sex marriage bans as unconstitutional, under both the U.S. and the state constitutions, on May 9, 2014. The Arkansas Supreme Court never ruled on the state's appeal of Piazza's ruling but dismissed it June 26, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court declared such bans unconstitutional nationwide.

The attorney general's office has called the payment requests in the Pulaski County case "outrageously excessive and unreasonable." The requests also led to a rift between Wagoner and Maples, of Searcy. Wagoner has asked for $95,748 to $141,880 in fees and costs in that case, asserting that he and his firm did most of the work on the lawsuit. Maples is seeking $345,825 to $686,998 -- an amount Wagoner has called "unreasonable and excessive."

Maples has called Wagoner's claim that she overstated her contributions to the case "untruthful and shocking."

In the Arkansas case, both Wagoner and Maples are seeking enhanced pay based on a multiplier of 150 percent to 200 percent of their fees, based on a doctrine that rewards attorneys who demonstrate exemplary efforts in civil-rights litigation with little or no guaranteed compensation. Both said they had to pass up paying jobs to work on the gay-marriage case.

The attorney general's office objected to the enhanced pay request, saying it is allowed only in "exceedingly rare" circumstances and for only "exceptional success."

Wagoner's motion for attorneys' fees in the federal case is accompanied by an 18-page invoice detailing the work performed by the firm. It doesn't request any fee enhancements.

Metro on 08/27/2015