Pa. spends $400/hour to defend gay marriage ban - abc27 WHTM

Pa. spends $400/hour to defend gay marriage ban

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Because it doesn't want to take a knife to a gunfight, Pennsylvania has hired former state Supreme Court Justice William Lamb as outside counsel to defend its ban on gay marriage.

Now a private attorney in West Chester, Lamb will get $400 an hour.

His associates will collect $325 an hour for the upcoming legal showdown with the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued the commonwealth on the grounds the state's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.

"The opposing side is going to come at it with all the resources that are available, not just Pennsylvania resources but national resources," said Nils Frederiksen, spokesman for the Office of General Counsel. "It's important to make sure that the legal team on the commonwealth side is equally skilled and equally staffed."

It is traditionally the job of the attorney general to defend the constitutionality of laws, but Kathleen Kane kicked the case to the governor and even joked about it at a Philadelphia news conference announcing her decision.

"The governor's going to be OK," Kane said with a huge grin and to howls of laughter from assembled gay marriage supporters. "He has a team of lawyers."

But it's a team that apparently doesn't have the constitutional expertise that Lamb brings.

In the court of public opinion that is 2nd Street in Harrisburg, taxpayers were not laughing at the thought of paying extra for a hired gun to defend a law most Pennsylvanians don't agree with.

"I do believe in same sex marriage," said Abby Newport of Lancaster. "I think it's kind of stupid that I'm paying money toward something that's still illegal here. That's frustrating."

Harrisburg's Joe Emerson agrees.

"I think that's stupid," he said. "I think that's not using the money wisely."

Stupid, maybe? But such "stupidity" is not new in Harrisburg.

In 2009, I did a story on then-Governor Ed Rendell. At the time, he had nearly 500 attorneys at his disposal who cost taxpayers $44 million a year. An abc27 analysis revealed that Rendell steered more than $11 million in outside legal work to Ballard Spahr, the firm he worked for before and after his term as governor.

Ballard Spahr attorneys billed the state $500, even $600, per hour.

Frederiksen says under Corbett, the use of outside counsel is down 20 percent from the Rendell years. He also says that Lamb is a good deal at $400 per hour.

"Compared to what other people are paying for other legal services of that caliber, that is a dramatically discounted rate," Frederiksen said. "You certainly couldn't walk into Lamb McErlane and get represented for $400 an hour. I don't know that there's anybody in Pennsylvania could do that."


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