U.S. District Court Awards ACLU Ballot Access Attorneys $612,045 in Attorney Fees for South Dakota Case

Ballot Access News:

Earlier this year, the South Dakota petition deadline for newly-qualifying parties, which was in late March, was held unconstitutionally early in U.S. District Court. The case was Libertarian Party of South Dakota v Krebs, civ 4:15cv-4111. According to a federal law passed in 1976, when plaintiffs sue a state over voting rights (including ballot access), and win, the state must pay the attorney fees for the plaintiffs.

South Dakota did not appeal the 2018 decision, striking down the deadline, but it did contest the amount of attorneys fees that plaintiffs claimed for their attorneys, who are on the staff of the ACLU. On October 2, 2018, the U.S. District Court adjudicated the proper amount of attorney fees to be $612,045. The case lasted three years and was made especially complicated because, twice, the state partially liberalized the law while the lawsuit was underway. Every time the law changed, the issues changed and new briefs were needed.

During the lawsuit, the state had relaxed the new party petition deadline from March to July, but only if the new party were only interested in running for president and the lesser statewide executive positions. In the end, though, the deadline was held unconstitutional also for parties that wanted to run for Congress, legislature, and Governor. Here is the 10-page decision explaining the basis for the amount of filing fees. The state had argued that if the plaintiffs (the Libertarian and Constitution Parties) had chosen attorneys who reside in South Dakota, the award of attorney fees would have been much lower, because attorneys inside South Dakota charge much lower hourly rates than in the states in which the two ACLU attorneys live. But the judge declared that it was reasonable for the plaintiffs to hire experts from outside South Dakota, because the case was very complicated. Thanks to Kurt Evens for this news.

One thought on “U.S. District Court Awards ACLU Ballot Access Attorneys $612,045 in Attorney Fees for South Dakota Case

  1. Richard Winger

    Thanks to IPR for picking this up. Other states that have early petition deadlines for new parties to get on the ballot are Alabama (in presidential years), Arizona, Arkansas, California (for office other than president), Hawaii, Maine (registration drive, not petition), Minnesota (full party petition), Montana, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin (full party petition). The Montana deadline, mid-March, is under attack now in a Green Party case. The LP will probably go to court against Maine in a few months.

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