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National gay rights group, law firm seeking $124,000 in legal fees from North Dakota


A national gay rights group that sued North Dakota on behalf of a same-sex couple is seeking $124,000 in legal fees, a figure the organization calls modest compared with amounts other states have paid after similar lawsuits.

Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit in June 2014 on behalf of Jan Jorgensen and Cindy Phillips, who live in Fargo. The couple married in Minnesota and sued North Dakota because the state wouldn't recognize their marriage.

The group and the Minneapolis-based Faegre Baker Daniels law firm have asked a federal judge to award a total of $124,000 to 10 attorneys who worked on the case, noting the lawyers accrued more than 380 billable hours.

That's a modest request as far as marriage litigation is concerned, said Lambda Legal attorney Camilla Taylor, who noted that senior attorneys on the case even billed the state at cheaper rates than normal.

Under federal law, attorneys in federal civil rights cases can petition a court to award fees and costs they accrue while fighting a case if a court decides in their favor.

In Wisconsin, the lawyers who successfully fought to undo the ban on same-sex marriage in that state sought to recoup $1.2 million in legal costs from the case. In Idaho, a group who successfully sued over that state's marriage ban sought more than $467,000 for the expenses associated with bringing the lawsuit.

Last month, North Dakota settled with attorneys who represented seven same-sex couples who sued the state and agreed to pay $58,000 in legal fees and costs.

Taylor said Lambda Legal always explores the possibility of settling out of court before asking a judge to award costs and fees.

"The fact that other folks choose to settle at a discount doesn't alter what the law says with respect to prevailing parties and their entitlement to reasonable attorneys' fees," Taylor said.

On Wednesday, the state commission that reviews emergency spending requests between North Dakota legislative sessions approved setting aside $75,000 from the attorney general's fund used for defending abortion litigation to help with costs and fees of other lawsuits. The attorney general's office had requested $120,000 to cover the costs of same-sex marriage litigation.

North Dakota lawmakers set aside $400,000 to defend lawsuits arising from the new abortion laws in 2013, and the Legislature added another $400,000 this year. Records obtained by The Associated Press show the state had spent $312,861 defending the abortion laws as of July, including nearly $233,000 on the fetal heartbeat measure.

Liz Brocker, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said Wednesday that the office had no comment at the time.

Associated Press writer James MacPherson contributed to this report from Bismarck.

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