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Commission OKs paying attorney fees in 2005 voting rights lawsuit

Nov 12, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Fremont County's insurance carrier is to pay the remainder of the $960,000 that a federal judge ordered the government to pay.

The Fremont County Commission has approved paying roughly $85,000 toward attorney fees for the plaintiffs in a 2005 voting rights lawsuit.

The county's insurance carrier is to pay the remainder of the $960,000 fee that a federal judge ordered the county to pay the lawyers who represented a group of American Indians in the suit.

Commissioners used all $84,000 from their contractual services line item and dipped into the county's cash reserve for $1,275 to fulfill their obligation.

The commission has settled its financial obligations in the suit, but the legal action left a lasting impact on the county.

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

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

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

Fremont County was only responsible for fees stemming from its appeal of the first ruling in the lawsuit.

Its insurer, the Wyoming Local Government Liability Pool, 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.

In September, 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.

When the judge's order came, Thompson indicated the county likely would not make an appeal on it, and ultimately the commission decided Nov. 5 to go ahead and pay the fees.

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