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Bar Buzz: SCOTUS loss could cost $1.29M

The Secretary of State’s office is asking for more than $1 million to pay off legal fees it owes after losing a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year.

The proposed one-time, $1.29 million expense is tucked deep in Gov. Tim Walz’s 2020-21 biennial budget recommendations. Minnesota Lawyer was alerted to it through a Tweet by Minnesota Public Radio’s Brian Bakst.

The payment would cover court-ordered attorney fees resulting from the Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky lawsuit, in which the court ruled 7-2 that a portion of Minnesota Statutes barring political apparel from polling places was unconstitutional.

The Secretary of State’s office is still litigating the final amount owed to plaintiffs. It expects the courts will determine a final total sometime during the current legislative session, according a Secretary of State office budget summary published by Minnesota Management and Budget.

The suit stemmed from a November 2010 incident in which the Minnesota Voters Alliance’s executive director, Andrew Cilek, was temporarily blocked from voting because he wore a Tea Party T-shirt and button advocating for polling-place photo IDs.

Along with Minnesota Majority, Minnesota Northstar Tea Party Patriots and the associated Election Integrity Watch, Cilek’s group sued the Minnesota Secretary of State and several county election officials. They sought to enjoin enforcement of the apparel ban on constitutional grounds.

On June 14, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that the law was, in part, unconstitutional. To date, that law remains on the books.

Federal law permits plaintiffs to seek reimbursement for attorney fees and legal costs associated with a successful constitutional challenge. In this case, the plaintiffs are seeking reimbursement, according to the budget summary.

As of Jan. 8, total appellate attorney fees and judgment costs were set at $983,760. But that amount was expected to increase about $486 every week, from that date until payment is made.

Beyond that, the state expects plaintiffs to seek another $250,000 to $300,000 in attorneys’ fees related to district court litigation. The $1.29 million requested appropriation assumes that final payment would be made by March 19.

The governor’s office recommends that the payment be made during the current fiscal year, which means no later than June 30.

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