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County to share attorney fees with insurer in civil rights voting case

Sep 26, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Fremont County is likely to pay less than one-tenth of the $960,000 of attorney fees awarded to plaintiffs in the 2005 civil rights voting case against the local government.

The attorney fees stem from a lawsuit filed by a group of American Indians challenging Fremont County's system of at-large voting for commission elections.

The plaintiffs said the at-large elections diluted the American Indian vote.

As a result of the lawsuit ruling, which struck down the at-large election system, Fremont County has been split into five commission districts, and commissioners are elected by members of their home district. The final ruling against Fremont County was made in 2012.

U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson, in the Sept. 20 order, stated federal code allows winners of civil rights and voting rights lawsuits to recover fees for their attorneys from the defendants in the cases.

Insurance

The county is only responsible for about $85,000 of the $960,000 total, however. The Wyoming Local Government Liability Pool, Fremont County's insurance provider, is expected to pay the rest.

The WLGLP is responsible for the cost of litigating the original lawsuit, and it will cover the plaintiffs' $875,000 in attorney fees accrued for the original lawsuit.

Fremont County must pay the cost of litigating its failed appeal of the original ruling in the suit. The county also is responsible for the plaintiffs' attorney fees for the appeal -- $85,000.

Commission chairman Doug Thompson said the county was ready to pay $90,000 or $100,000 in attorney fees for the appeal.

"This ($85,000) amount was a little less than we expected," he said.

The commission set aside about $100,000 in its cash reserve for the appeal and will use that money to pay its portion of the attorney fees, Thompson said.

He believes the county board will pay the bill in the next month or two, but the commission will have to formally vote to do so. Thompson does not think a deadline exists for payment of the attorney fees.

Thompson said it's unlikely that the commission will contest the order to pay the attorney fees. More litigation would cost more money, he said, and he does not see a reason to go that route.

"You have to have some sort of significant grounds (for an appeal), and I don't see that," Thompson said.

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