The state of Ohio has racked up more than $2.7 million in legal fees it will likely have to pay to attorneys who have engaged in a decade’s worth of litigation over voting laws passed by the state’s legislature and enforced by the secretary of state’s office. And while a federal appeals court said part of that amount must be re-calculated, the cost is expected to increase significantly in the future, as those same lawyers still need to add in the nearly three years of legal work completed since the last time a judge ordered payment. The legal battle at issue has raged on since 2006, though it is in line with challenges to a series of laws passed by Republican-controlled legislatures across the country in the past few years. Courts in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Texas, North Dakota and Kansas issued scathing opinions in the past week that invalidated key parts of voting legislation passed in each state, with each court stating that the laws were aimed at curbing minority participation in elections. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless first filed suit against the secretary of state over laws passed by the legislature that required voters to provide identification at polling places. The case has evolved and continued after elected officials passed laws that affected provisional ballots. This resulted in a trial earlier this year, after which Columbus federal Judge Algenon Marbley issued a constitutional rebuke of the state’s laws pertaining to the disqualification of absentee and provisional ballots for technical violations.
So far, Marbley has ordered the state to pay legal fees and costs to the private attorneys who brought the case, which includes Cleveland attorney Subodh Chandra and his firm, along with the San Francisco law firm Alshuler Berzon, for work done up to 2013. The state fought these orders, claiming they were excessive, but with limited success. The last order came in 2015 when Marbley ordered the state to pay more than $2.2 million.
The case is a good example of the large bills that taxpayers have to foot when the state defends laws passed by the legislature and continuously appeals the decisions to higher courts. These bills tend to add up in cases where a judge finds that the constitutional rights of citizens were violated as a result of legislative actions.