Judge lifts stay on gay-nuptials ruling; a formality, attorney says

The Arkansas federal judge who declared the state's same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional in November formally lifted her stay on that ruling Monday.

"I think everybody looked at that as a formality at this point," Little Rock attorney Jack Wagoner said of the lifting of the stay, which doesn't have any practical effect because the U.S. Supreme Court declared gay marriage legal across the country on June 26, and the Arkansas attorney general's office said the state would follow the high court's directive.

The state had appealed U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker's ruling to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis shortly after it was issued. The 8th Circuit decided to hold off on hearing oral arguments on the appeal while the Supreme Court considered the issue of same-sex marriage in an appeal from another circuit. The Supreme Court on June 26 delivered its ruling in that case, Obergefell v. Hodges, reversing a decision from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

The 8th Circuit, like other appellate courts across the country, followed the Supreme Court and affirmed Baker's ruling Aug. 11. That officially returned the case to the district court's jurisdiction, allowing Baker to lift the stay she had imposed for the purpose of maintaining the status quo while the state appealed.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case heard by Baker have asked her to order the defendants -- the state and the county -- to pay their attorneys' fees. Attorneys for the state and the county have filed objections, arguing that the amount of fees being sought is excessive and that the government officials whose jobs required them to uphold Arkansas bans were merely doing their jobs and shouldn't have to pay the plaintiffs' fees.

On Monday, responses in the fees issue continued to be filed, with Searcy attorney Cheryl Maples filing a motion renewing her earlier request for $15,900 in fees and $511.47 in costs, noting that her law practice-- and thus her request for fees -- is "separate and distinct" from that of Wagoner's firm. Wagoner's firm has asked Baker to award fees and costs of $49,754 for representing the two same-sex couples from Little Rock who were the plaintiffs in the federal case.

Wagoner's firm filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of plaintiffs Rita and Pam Jernigan and Becca and Tara Austin, and Maples later joined the case as co-counsel. Maples was the first to file a lawsuit challenging the bans in Pulaski County circuit court, and Wagoner's firm later joined in that case. That lawsuit led Judge Chris Piazza to declare the bans unconstitutional on May 9, 2014, but the Arkansas Supreme Court never decided an appeal of his ruling, eventually dismissing it after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling.

Maples clarified Monday that even though the two firms worked together on aspects of the case, "the separate motions [filed by each firm] are not competing claims, they are separate claims."

Both the Wagoner firm and the Maples firm also have asked Piazza to allow them to recover fees and costs in that case. Wagoner has asked for $95,748 to $141,880, while Maples is seeking $345,825 to $686,998, depending on whether the judge agrees to enhance the fees as the law allows in certain cases focusing on public issues.

Metro on 09/15/2015