State tab $7,463 in same-sex vow case

8th Circuit: Pay out for plea to it

The appeal of U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker's Nov. 25 ruling declaring Arkansas' same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional will cost the state $7,463.75 in attorney fees, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a battle raging over whether, or how much, the state should have to pay to cover the plaintiffs' attorney fees in the case before it got to the appeals court took an ugly turn late Tuesday afternoon when one attorney accused another of attempting to defraud the court.

The accusation by attorney Jack Wagoner of Little Rock -- who filed the federal lawsuit in 2013 on behalf of two same-sex couples -- was leveled against attorney Cheryl Maples of Searcy. Maples had filed an earlier, similar lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court on behalf of a different group of plaintiffs. The two attorneys later joined each other's suits as co-counsel, but recent filings relating to their requests for the state to pay their attorney fees have exposed a growing rift between them.

At the end of a 20-page reply filed Tuesday to objections about his fee request from the state and Pulaski County, which was also a defendant in the federal case, Wagoner noted that Maples is seeking a separate fee award in the case argued before Baker. Wagoner's firm is seeking $49,754 in attorney fees, and Maples is seeking $15,900 in fees and $511 in costs, under a legal provision that sometimes permits the winners in a civil case to collect attorney fees from the losing side.

In the state case, which was argued in Pulaski County Circuit Court, Wagoner's firm is seeking a minimum of $95,748, while Maples is seeking a minimum of $345,825.

Referring to the federal case, Wagoner wrote, "All briefing in this case was complete by the time that Ms. Maples entered her appearance. She provided no research, input, or contribution towards any motions, briefs, or other pleadings in the case and I am not aware of her filing a single pleading on her own other than her initial Entry of Appearance."

He went on to say that Maples spent only about an hour with him preparing for Nov. 20 oral arguments in the federal case, and then spent "perhaps three to four hours" attending the hearing, but that her time on the case "would be very minimal, not more than a couple of hours total in my estimation. Based on my personal knowledge, information, and belief, I am completely comfortable stating under oath my opinion that Ms. Maples's fee petition is an attempt to commit a fraud upon this Court."

Maples, reached by telephone before she had seen a copy of Wagoner's filing, indicated she was shocked and appalled.

"I can absolutely prove every second I claim," she said. "I have emails showing I have prepared pleadings for this case."

Maples said the hour that Wagoner mentioned they shared in preparation for oral arguments "was an absolute waste of time," which is why she left to focus on her own arguments away from his office.

"Jack wanted me to come to his office and watch him. It was an ego trip for him," she said. "He wanted me to tell him how wonderful he was. I saw four or five hours of my time the day before oral arguments being wasted."

Maples said she usually works alone and that Wagoner "has never been to my office. He has never been with me while I'm working." She said he "thinks everything goes on in his office. He doesn't realize I've got my own office, my own work methods. ... The biggest mistake I ever made in my life was bringing him into my case."

Maples said she will file a response but, "for him to say that I perpetrated a fraud -- oh, I think there's a lawsuit coming up."

In the fee issue concerning the appeal of the federal case, the Wagoner firm had asked the St. Louis-based appeals court to award it $12,897.50 for 73.7 hours of work performed by Angela Mann, an attorney at the firm, based on an hourly rate of $175. The firm said $5,110 of that amount would be used to reimburse the Arkansas Public Law Center, a nonprofit advocacy group, for its financial support in that amount toward the appeal.

The state objected, with Assistant Attorney General Colin Jorgensen suggesting that the 8th Circuit deny the request altogether because the firm had already been compensated by the advocacy group, and asserting that the plaintiffs hadn't provided reliable evidence to support the fee request. If the court wouldn't deny the request altogether, Jorgensen asked it to limit the award to $5,110.

In a response Friday, Wagoner attached an affidavit verifying the accuracy of the billing statement and attesting to the reasonableness of the rate.

The order for $7,463.75 in attorney fees down Tuesday didn't explain how the 8th Circuit arrived at the figure it ultimately awarded, which was $5,433.75 less than what the plaintiffs sought and $2,353.75 more than the amount that the state said was warranted.

The appeal was cut short after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 26 that same-sex marriage is legal across the country, prompting the 8th Circuit to affirm Baker's ruling.

Metro on 09/16/2015