By Sherman Smith
Special to the HDN
TOPEKA — The American Civil Liberties Union is asking for more than $50,000 in compensation for hours spent fighting Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach over issues that led to his contempt of court finding.
U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson ordered Kobach’s office to pay for attorney fees and expenses when she ruled last month that Kobach ignored her orders after she blocked enforcement of the state’s voter registration law. Kobach has filed a notice with the court saying he intends to appeal her decision.
Kobach failed to follow through on a promise to Robinson that counties would send postcards notifying people they could vote, even if they failed to show proof of citizenship when they registered. He continued to fight the notion that postcards were necessary until the day of his contempt hearing, which followed a trial in which he struggled to prove claims of widespread voter fraud.
In a filing on Monday, the ACLU said the court should award $51,646.16 for 133.5 hours attorneys spent on the contempt motion and related correspondence, as well as 19.41 hours from paralegals. Those hours, the ACLU said, were exacerbated by Kobach’s repeated refusals to cooperate.
“Indeed, the hours expended prosecuting this motion were largely due to defendant’s unnecessary recalcitrance, which is exactly why this court found it appropriate to hold defendant responsible for plaintiffs’ fees,” the ACLU said.
From September 2016 to March 2018, the ACLU “had to investigate, monitor, and work to resolve” issues of Kobach not complying with the temporary injunction in the case. Kobach’s “willful defiance of this court’s authority” required unnecessary proceedings, the ACLU said. Work by attorneys is detailed and dated, action-by-action, with related costs.
Kobach told Breitbart the counties should be blamed for failing to follow orders, even though his contempt hearing revealed his office never notified them of the need to send postcards.
“The notice of appeal has already been filed,” said his spokesman, Moriah Day. “The position of the office is that the fees were erroneously awarded and therefore the disposition of this issue will not be known until the appeal is completed.”
In making its request, ACLU shows how many hours various attorneys spent and how much they charge for an hourly rate, ranging from $110 per hour for a paralegal to $450 per hour for the top attorneys on the case. Even if the rates exceed the Kansas City market, the ACLU argues, they are justified because voting rights litigation is highly specialized.
During recent debate over the state’s budget, Republicans in the Kansas House endorsed a proposal from Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin, to ban the use of state funds to pay for fees related to Kobach’s contempt finding. The measure passed with overwhelming support, 103-16, but was stripped during negotiations with the Senate. The legislation was problematic because it is Kobach’s office that is responsible for paying the fine.
“We made our point,” said Rep. Troy Waymaster, a Republican from Bunker Hill and the House budget chairman. “Would we have liked to kept it in? Yes. We decided to go ahead and let that go.”