OMAHA — A judge's final ruling overturning Nebraska's flag-desecration law includes an order for the state to pay part of the $8,000 in attorney fees to the Kansas church member who filed the lawsuit — a bill that will be footed by state taxpayers.
The order issued Thursday by U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf names several prosecutors and law enforcement officials involved in the case as responsible parties. Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Nebraska State Patrol Commander Bryan Tuma are responsible for $3,500, which will come from state funds.
Members of the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church travel around the country to protest at military funerals because they believe U.S. troop deaths are punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality. Church members often trample on the U.S. flag, wear it and display it upside-down as part of their protests.
"Anytime we have to pay people as repulsive as the people of Westboro it's painful, but state statutes allow for the collection of attorney's fees," Bruning said Friday.
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Tuma did not immediately return a message the Associated Press left Friday seeking comment.
Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov is responsible for $2,000 of the fees, Omaha Police Chief Alex Hayes another $2,000, and Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine $500.
Polikov said his share will come from county funds. He disagreed with the judge's ruling striking down Nebraska's flag-desecration law, which made illegal intentionally "casting contempt or ridicule" upon a U.S. or Nebraska flag by mutilating, defacing or burning it or by trampling on it.
"I think anything was too much to pay, but in the scheme of things... it was acceptable," Polikov said. "We agreed on it. The state stood up and took a bigger share, I think because the lawsuit was aimed at state law."
Neither Hayes nor Kleine immediately returned AP messages Friday seeking comment.
The order stems from a lawsuit filed by Megan Phelps-Roper, a Westboro Baptist Church member who said Nebraska's flag law infringed on her right to free speech and was unconstitutional.
The fact that taxpayers' money will be used to pay the attorney fees is fitting, said Margie Phelps, Phelps-Roper's attorney and another church member.
"It's the public that keeps pressing these officials to do the wrong thing," Phelps said. "They should know that a.) It's not going to work; and b.) It's going to cost them tax dollars."