Kenai Peninsula Borough required to pay ACLU of Alaska’s attorney fees

Jan 30, 2019

Credit Courtesy of the Kenai Peninsula Borough

The Kenai Peninsula Borough isn’t finished paying for a court case involving its former invocation policy. The borough still needs to pay the American Civil Liberty Union of Alaska’s attorney fees. The borough assembly will discuss an ordinance next week appropriating roughly $70,000 from the general fund for the fees. In total, the borough owes the ACLU $80,000.

The ACLU sued the borough in 2016 on behalf of residents who were unable to give invocations under the borough’s policy. That policy only allowed leaders of recognized religious groups to lead invocations. Last year, a superior court judge ruled that that violated the Alaska Constitution.

ACLU spokesperson Casey Reynolds says when a government entity loses its case, it’s standard that it will pay a portion of the plaintiff’s legal fees.

“And that's what happened in this case. The borough enacted an unconstitutional provision,” he said. “We fought that provision. The courts agreed that we were in the right and so the borough is liable for those costs.”

He said the ACLU came up with total costs for legal fees and then negotiated with the borough to come to an agreement for a final amount.

“Frankly, we've been involved in this case for quite a long time,” he said. “We went and testified before the borough assembly to make sure that they knew that what they were doing was constitutionally questionable and so from that point forward when we started to enter into litigation, it's just all of those costs that go into the lawyers’ times, the research, the travel, all of those sorts of costs.”

Paying the ACLU’s attorney fees brings the borough’s final bill for this invocation case up to roughly $120,000. The borough also spent around $40,000 on another case related to the invocation issue in 2017. The borough also lost that case.