Thursday, October 9, 2014

What’s the taxpayer tab for defending SC’s marriage ban?

AG’s office says no outside attorneys have been hired to help

Posted by Paul Bowers on Thu, Oct 9, 2014 at 12:31 PM

click to enlarge Attorney General Alan Wilson is continuing to defend South Carolina's ban on same-sex marriage.
  • Attorney General Alan Wilson is continuing to defend South Carolina's ban on same-sex marriage.

The office of S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has been defending the state's ban on same-sex marriage since Aug. 28, 2013, when Wilson and Gov. Nikki Haley were named as co-defendants in the lawsuit Bradacs v. Haley, which seeks legal recognition for marriages between same-sex couples. What has been the cost to taxpayers of defending that law? It's hard to say.

"We've wondered the same thing. We don't know," says Mark Powell, a spokesman for Wilson's office.

According to Powell, people have called the AG's office asking similar questions about other court cases over the years, but he has never been able to give an answer because the office does not track the expenses incurred for individual cases.

"We do not have any mechanism in place for any matter — not just for this, for any trial — for calculating cost," Powell says. "I can tell you there have been no resources outside of staff used, so there have been no expenses incurred beyond regular staff. Two attorneys who are on staff have handled all the paperwork and all the legal matters with it, so they're existing staffers so they're already on payroll, but nothing has incurred beyond that."

Powell also says the Wilson's office works on multiple cases at once, rather than dedicating blocks of time solely to the Bradacs case.

"You've got to remember, these folks are doing multiple things besides this," Powell says. "They're not just dedicated to this. If you think of an assembly line, this is just one thing that comes down."

By using only in-house employees to defend the gay marriage ban, South Carolina's Attorney General office sets itself apart from some other states that have racked up consulting fees. In Utah, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the state's defense of its Amendment 3 same-sex marriage ban resulted in "an estimated $2 million legal battle" as the attorney general enlisted the help of a private attorney to help craft the defense. In Pennsylvania this year, The Patriot-News reported that the state spent $588,000 hiring outside legal counsel to defend its Defense of Marriage Act.

While Wilson has said he will continue defending South Carolina's Amendment 1, a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage that passed by a 78-percent referendum in 2006, other states' attorneys general simply stopped defending similar bans. In July, shortly after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals deemed a gay marriage ban in neighboring Virginia unconstitutional, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper announced that he would stop defending North Carolina's Amendment 1.

"Our office, along with other attorneys general and state attorneys across the country, have made about every legal argument imaginable," Cooper told the Associated Press. "Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Windsor case, all the federal courts have rejected these arguments each and every time. So it's time for the State of North Carolina to stop making them."

Wilson has served as attorney general since 2011. He is up for re-election on Nov. 4 and will face Democratic challenger Parnell Diggs, who has said he would not defend the gay marriage ban if elected.

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