Governor Matt Bevin and his lawyers want former Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis to pay for the litigation expenses, nearly $225,000, brought about by couples who sued her in 2015 after she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of her religious beliefs, according to Kentucky.com.
Bevin has praised Davis as “an inspiration … to the children of America.” Yet, Bevin’s attorneys are blaming her for failing to do her job after the June 2015 Supreme Court decision which legalized gay marriage.
Thursday, a three-judge panel at the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati will hear both arguments about who should pay for the case’s expenses. In 2017, a district judge ruled that the couple who sued for marriage licenses prevailed and the state of Kentucky would pay their fees.
Governor Bevin appealed the ruling, hoping to pass off the expense to the Rowan County clerk’s office. The governor’s lawyers insisted that Davis was acting alone without state support.
“Her local policy stood in direct conflict with her statutory obligation to issue marriage licenses to qualified Kentucky couples. The local policy also undermined the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s interest in upholding the rule of law,” Bevin attorney Palmer G. Vance II wrote in one brief.
Vance continued, “Davis had an independent and sworn duty to uphold the law as an elected county officer. If fees are awarded, they must be the responsibility of the Rowan County clerk’s office, which should be deterred from engaging in conduct that violates civil rights- and leads to costly litigation.”
Steve Pitt, Bevin’s general counsel, said that Bevin still personally supports Davis.
“In contesting the federal court’s award of attorney’s fees against the commonwealth, outside counsel retained by the Beshear administration to represent the governor’s office have taken no position as to whether Ms. Davis acted unconstitutionally. Governor Bevin does not believe that she has done so and continues to support Ms. Davis’s actions,” Pitt said.
“Regardless, the federal court has held that she violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights and that the state must pay to the ACLU legal fees incurred as a result,” Pitt said. “Our outside counsel have only argued, given the court’s ruling, that if constitutional rights were violated, the taxpayers of Kentucky are not responsible to pay the ACLU’s attorney fees.”
The litigation expenses are at issue for eight people who sued David for her refusal to grant them marriage licenses: April Miller, Karen Ann Roberts, Shantel Burke, Stephen Napier, Jody Fernandez, Kevin Holloway, L. Aaron Skaggs, and Barry W. Spartman.
Davis announced that she was opposed to gay marriage after the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision. She said she would no longer give marriage licenses to anyone in Rowan County. U.S. District Judge David Bunning jailed her for contempt of the court for several days. Davis compromised with Bunning by letting one of her deputies to issue a modified marriage license to anyone who wanted one.
Davis was not granted a second term as county clerk by the Rowan County voters.
In 2017, Bunning ruled that the couples had prevailed in their litigation and must be reimbursed by the state, as Davis’ authority to issue marriage licenses came from the state government. The state could have pursued criminal penalties against Davis for her misconduct, or she could have been removed from office. Instead, the state legislature “modified the marriage license form to appease Davis.”
More, Bunning refused to hold Davis personally responsible because she was prevailed upon by the couples in an “official capacity” as a public official, not as an individual.
“Davis represented the Commonwealth of Kentucky when she refused to issue marriage licenses to legally eligible couples. The buck stops there,” Bunning wrote.
Bevin’s lawyers say that the couples did not prevail, so they were not entitled for reimbursement. Even if it is found that the couples did prevail, the cost should be paid by Rowan County’s clerk instead of the state.
While campaigning for governor in 2015, Bevin stood behind Davis in her decision to refuse service to couples at the courthouse.
“Amid all the vitriol, all the nastiness, she stood firm. I think it’s beyond question that Kim Davis is an inspiration. Not only to leaders like myself, in the public arena and those outside the public arena, but to my children and to the children of America,” Bevin said.
Rowan County has filed another briefing, saying that the county had no control over Davis’ policies, as she was an independently elected official.
The couples would like a resolution to the case after three and a half years of fighting.