TOPEKA — The Kansas Legislature’s failure to redraw political boundaries this year could stick the state with hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills from parties involved in the resulting federal lawsuit, court records showed Thursday.
Attorneys for 19 of the 27 people suing Secretary of State Kris Kobach over unequal political representation submitted requests to have almost $662,000 in attorneys’ fees and other legal expenses covered by the state.
The federal judges who imposed new congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts earlier this month must now determine what costs Kansas must cover.
Kobach promised to fight the requests, calling them excessive. Kobach was the first defendant because his office administers elections, but Attorney General Derek Schmidt was allow to join as a defendant to deal only with the legal expense.
“We will strongly urge the court not to award any attorneys’ fees,” Kobach said. “It would be a real disservice to Kansas taxpayers.”
The redistricting lawsuit was filed in May by Robyn Renee Essex, a Republican precinct committee member from Olathe, but the federal judges allowed another 26 people to join as plaintiffs.
“This was foreseeable, particularly after the dog pile of plaintiffs who joined the lawsuit,” Schmidt said.
Many legislators had worried about such costs and discussed earmarking extra tax dollars to cover them – though they never could agree, with figures ranging from $200,000 to $1 million. The Attorney General’s Office also has a fund for paying court settlements and other legal judgments.
The additional plaintiffs in the lawsuit included key figures in the Legislature’s stalemate over redistricting, arising from ongoing conflicts between Republican moderates and Gov. Sam Brownback’s conservative GOP allies.
Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Tim Owens, a moderate Overland Park Republican who was allowed to join the lawsuit, said it’s fair to see that attorneys are paid for intensive work on the case over only a few weeks. The court can require the state to pay someone’s legal costs if it concludes that person prevailed.
“There was a lot of research that went into it,” said Owens, an attorney. “They had to pull their resources together.”
Kobach, a conservative Republican and former law professor, contends that none of the parties prevailed because his office conceded from the outset that the old political boundaries, drawn in 2002, created unequal representation and were therefore unconstitutional. Also, he said, the judges drew their own political maps instead of adopting existing plans.
“None of these interveners’ attorneys are entitled to anything,” he said.
But Owens argued that his group of four people with common interests did prevail. He said the congressional the judges drafted is similar to one he advocated and shepherded through the Senate, only to see it rejected by the conservative-led House. He said the Senate map is similar to a bipartisan plan he and other GOP moderates favored.
“It’s very, very disingenuous of Kobach to say nobody prevailed,” Owens said.
The potential bill from attorneys for Owens’ group was the largest. Six attorneys from two Topeka law firms – Frieden, Unrein & Forbes, and Irigonegaray & Associates – listed nearly $188,000 in fees and expenses.
Owens and House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat who also became a plaintiff, said parties relied on multiple attorneys because lawyers had so little time to prepare. The two-day trial came only 11 days after the additional parties began asking to join the lawsuit.
“It created a difficult situation,” said Davis, whose attorneys had more than $86,000 in fees. “They had to digest a lot of information and get up to speed in a very short amount of time.”
But Schmidt compared having the state cover such legal expenses to “double billing,” because taxpayers already paid their legislators to tackle redistricting.
In all, 39 attorneys were listed as representing the 29 parties.