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Legal cost of bad laws pass to taxpayers


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By Sarah Seward

Indiana taxpayers could be forced to pay for state legislators' actions if two lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana prevail in court.

The Indiana General Assembly adopted two laws this past session that almost immediately became subjects of lawsuits to determine whether they were constitutional.

One of the measures would prevent Medicaid funding from going to organizations such as Planned Parenthood of Indiana because they perform abortions. The other measure grants law enforcement officers more arresting powers against illegal immigrants.

The U.S. District Court has granted preliminary injunctions against both measures.

Gilbert Holmes, the executive director of the ACLU of Indiana, said when the ACLU or any organization challenges a new law or policy on constitutional grounds and wins, the state is obligated to pay not only its own legal fees, but also those of the other side.

In 2010, the ACLU received approximately $105,000 when they challenged Indiana's Division of Children Services on an adoption law on a constitutional basis and the state was required to pay the ACLU's legal fees.

The ACLU refused to say how much time their lawyers have put into both cases at this point.

But Ken Falk, the lead attorney on both cases for the ACLU, charges $400 per hour.

Last year, the ACLU received $252,779 from winning cases in which the other side had to pay its legal fees.

Indianapolis attorney Hamid Kashani, who is of counsel to the ACLU of Indiana, estimated that the legal fees in cases like these would be around $150,000 to $300,000 prior to any appeals.

"The fees rack up pretty fast," Kashani said.

Kashani added that an appeal might add anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000 in fees.

Kashani said the expense will be "proportionate to how much resistance comes from the other side."

Bryan Corbin, spokesperson for Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, could not give an estimate of how many hours the state's lawyers have spent on the Planned Parenthood and immigration suits.

This year the General Assembly approved a budget of $16.2 million for the attorney general's office. The budget covers payroll for the office's employees as well as the cost for representing the state in lawsuits.

Corbin said state legislators were not able to request legal advice on the measures they passed.

"Per a longstanding policy, the attorney general's office does not issue formal legal advisory opinions to our clients about pending legislation during session," Corbin said.

Holmes said if the two measures are judged unconstitutional, then Hoosiers should look not only at the money wasted paying for legal fees, but also at the time state legislators adopting unconstitutional laws.

Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, the sponsor of the immigration measure, said he believes the immigration measure is constitutional.

"I continue to fight for taxpayers and all immigrants who became citizens by following the law," he said in his blog. "Illegal immigration is just that illegal."

The above is one of an ongoing series of reports from the Indiana Statehouse by students at the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism.


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