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Gay Marriage Lawyers Want $1 Million. Here's a Look at the Bill

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on September 17, 2015 12:03 PM

They litigated one of the landmark cases of a generation. They made it to the Supreme Court and won. They expanded marriage to millions of couples who had been denied it just years before. Now they want to cash in.

The lawyers who represented gay marriage plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges, which recognized a constitutional right to marriage for same-sex couples, have submitted their bill to the courts. They're asking for over $1 million in attorneys' fees. Let's see how it breaks down.

That'll Be $1 Million, Please

James Obergefell sued after Ohio refused to put his name on his husband's death certificate. Obergefell married his partner of two decades, John Arthur, on the tarmac of a Baltimore airport. Arthur was dying of ALS and too sick to leave the plane. Their marriage would not have been legal at the time in Ohio and when Arthur died three months later, the state refused to recognize it on his death certificate.

Obergefell was represented by lawyers from Gerhardstein and Branch, a public interest firm based in Cincinnati, and the ACLU. In the motion for attorney's fees, Obergefell's lawyers are also joined by the team from Henry v. Hodges, a companion case consolidated with Obergefell on appeal. Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation for Lamda Legal, lead the Henry case.

A Look at the Bill

Alphonse Gerhardstein and his associate Jacklyn Gonzales Martin definitely took the lead in billable hours. The pair is requesting payment for over 1,300 hours all together -- 852 hours for Gerhardstein at a rate of $475 an hour, and 454 hours for Gonzalez Martin at just $250 an hour. Both attorneys had increased their hourly rate $25 from their first fee request in district court in February, 2014. Since then Gerhardstein had put in an additional 618 hours, or more than 30 hours a week on the appeals.

Sommer also put in her fair share of hours, billing for 551 hours at $450 an hour. Both Sommer and Gerhardstein's rates are cheap compared to the ACLU's James Esseks, however. Esseks is seeking a rate of $700 an hour, supposedly based on a reasonable New York rate.

Here's the fees broken down of the top billers in a handy table:

Attorney Total Hours Rate Loadstar
Gerhardstein 852.6 $475 $404,985
Gonzalez Martin 454.38 $250 $113,595
Sommer 550.95 $450 $247,927
Esseks 159.1 $700 $111,370

When added up with other attorneys, grad students and paralegals -- including another 664 hours billed to Gerhardstein and Branch staff -- the total comes to $1,096,142.50.

Seem like a lot? It's not, at least when compared to similar cases. Lawyers for gay marriage cases in Michigan and Kentucky are seeking almost twice as much as the Obergefell team.

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