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Katie Lang

The cost of defying the law on same sex marriage

Nearly $44K in attorneys’ fees, and it could have been worse.

It has been a month since Joe Stapleton and Jim Cato finally got the marriage license Hood County Clerk Katie Lang denied them because of her religious beliefs. It only took a federal lawsuit to get it.

Today that suit was settled, and according to the attorneys representing Stapleton and Cato, Lang’s refusal to issue the license ended up costing Hood County $43,872.10 in attorney’s fees. They will now move to dismiss the suit.

“It is a shame that Hood County Clerk Katie Lang refused to follow the rule of law, causing our clients to go through the difficulties of hiring lawyers and filing a federal lawsuit to obtain the marriage license to which they are constitutionally entitled,” says attorney Pat O’Connell, one of Stapleton and Cato’s attorneys. “And it is sad that the taxpayers of Hood County have to pay the price for their elected official’s misconduct.”

According to Austin attorney Jan Soifer, who also represented the couple, the Hood County Commissioners agreed to settle the suit “to save [Lang] from dealing with the additional expense and significant financial exposure her actions caused the taxpayers of her county.”

See here, here, and here for the background. The lawsuit was filed July 7, so this was a quick resolution. I imagine the Hood county Commissioners Court finally got some better legal advice than what Ken Paxton was dishing out post-Obergfell, and saw the writing on the wall. Lang’s pointless yet defiant anti-same-sex-marriage manifesto is still up on her County Clerk webpage, so I think it’s fair to say the commissioners saved her from herself as well. If there are still any other holdout counties at this point, let this be a lesson for them as well. See the reactions on Facebook from Glen Maxey and attorney Jan Soifer for more.

There will be more lawsuits

The lawsuit filed in Hood County to force County Clerk Katie Lang to issue a marriage license to a same sex couple won’t be the last one like it.

RedEquality

“We hope and expect that county clerks across Texas and the country will take a look at what happened [in Hood County] and do the right thing and follow the U.S. Constitution,” said Austin Kaplan, an Austin attorney who represents a Granbury gay couple who obtained a marriage license on Monday after filing a lawsuit against the Hood County Clerk’s office in federal court.

The Granbury couple, Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton, who have been together for 27 years, have said they will move forward with their lawsuit until the county clerk’s office agrees to issue marriage licenses to all couples. Kaplan said they have not heard from Hood County Clerk Katie Lang, and her office would not say whether it is issuing same-sex licenses.

With a population of 53,921 people, Hood County is the most populous county among those still refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Texas counties’ responses to the Supreme Court’s ruling varied between those that immediately began issuing marriage licenses and those that took a few days to come around. But two weeks after the high court’s ruling, at least six counties are likely refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, according to Texans for Marriage.

The other holdout counties as of July 7 were Dallam and Roberts counties in the Panhandle; Irion, Hartley and Loving counties in West Texas; and Hamilton County, located between Austin and Fort Worth.

(Of Texas’ 254 counties, three counties have not been reached and 13 counties are planning to issue marriage licenses after “software changes” or receipt of updated marriage certificates, according to Texans for Marriage.)

On Thursday, a deputy clerk in Roberts County told The Texas Tribune that the clerk’s office would issue licenses if requested by a same-sex couple.

Hartley County Clerk Melissa Mead said her office won’t issue same-sex marriage licenses until the clock runs out on the 25 days that parties in the Supreme Court case have to ask for a rehearing of the case.

A deputy clerk for Loving County said her office was awaiting further direction from the attorney general’s office. A spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the only guidance from the state’s top lawyer was the written opinion issued June 28, which said county clerks with religious objections can opt out of issuing same-sex marriage licenses but they should be prepared to get sued.

Calls to Dallam and Hamilton went unanswered.

See here and here for background on Hood County. Next in line appears to be Irion County, and after that who knows. Actually, what could happen is more lawsuits in the same places as before:

A judge’s ruling in the Hood County case would likely only apply to those parties in that county, said Alexandra Albright, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. If the case went to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — which has appellate jurisdiction over federal courts in Texas — then any ruling would apply to the entire circuit, Albright added.

Now that the Hood County gay couple has obtained a marriage license, a federal judge may not immediately rule on the broader issue of whether the Hood County clerk’s delay “caused constitutional damage,” so other same-sex couples would likely have to file their own lawsuits, said Meg Penrose, a law professor at Texas A&M University.

“If this is not a class action, other individuals that are denied marriage licenses will need to sue on their own behalf or wait for a class action to be filed,” Penrose said. “This could become costly for the county [or] clerk as individual lawsuits could mount quickly.”

Kaplan, the attorney for the Hood County gay couple, said Texas lawyers were keeping an eye on “lawless clerks” and would likely take action if clerks continued to believe “there’s some justification for failing to issue the licenses.”

“We’ll see what happens when that comes to head,” he added.

One would think that repeated litigation over the same thing might make a recalcitrant County Clerk less popular. I understand that Katie Lang’s husband Mike is a candidate to succeed Jim Keffer in HD60, so this could quickly become an election issue. As the man said, we’ll see.

Federal lawsuit filed in Hood County

That sound you hear is the rubber meeting the road.

The motion for a temporary injunction and temporary restraining order was filed this morning in Fort Worth federal court on behalf of Soifer’s clients, Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton, who’ve been together for 27 years. The couple has been trying to get a marriage license ever since the Supreme Court made it legal in all 50 states on June 26, only to be told, repeatedly, the clerk’s office isn’t issuing licenses.

Initially Katie Lang, the county clerk, said her office wasn’t issuing licenses because of her religious beliefs; she then clarified her statement to indicate she wouldn’t issue licences, but her staffers would. But on Thursday, the couple says they were told the the same thing The Dallas Morning News was when we called to inquire about the issuing of licenses: It would take several weeks because the clerk’s office didn’t yet have the forms from the state.

According to the lawsuit, on Thursday the couple went to the clerk’s office and “produced a copy of the revised application for marriage license, promulgated by the state and available to county clerks, and asked if they could use it to apply.” But a woman named Virginia in the clerk’s office “told them she could not accept that form. Then Clerk Lang asked everyone to leave the office, stating that no media was allowed. Jim replied that Joe and Jim were not media, but instead taxpayers of Hood County, there to get a marriage license, but the Clerk said they needed to leave as well, which was humiliating. Clerk Lang also apparently called the Sheriff’s Department, because by the time Joe and Jim left her office, approximately half a dozen deputy sheriffs had arrived to stand guard outside and immediately inside the Clerk’s office.”

The suit says the couple “found the entire process to be humiliating and degrading, and have no reason to believe that they would receive a marriage license without having to file a lawsuit to get it.”

See here for the background, and click the link above to see a copy of the lawsuit. This was bound to happen as long as County Clerk Lang refused to obey the law and do her job. The good news is that in spite of all that, Cato and Stapleton got their marriage license.

A Granbury gay couple on Monday obtained a marriage license from the Hood County Clerk’s office after filing a lawsuit against the clerk in federal court.

But attorneys representing Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton, who have been together for 27 years, said the couple will move forward with their lawsuit until the county clerk’s office agrees to issue marriage licenses to all couples.

“Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton are delighted that they finally have been issued a marriage license and can get married in their home county,” the gay couple’s attorneys, Jan Soifer and Austin Kaplan, said in a statement. “It’s a shame that they needed to hire lawyers and file a lawsuit to make that happen.”

The Hood County Clerk’s office would not say whether it is issuing same-sex marriage licenses and referred questions regarding the licenses to County Clerk Katie Lang’s personal attorneys.

Lang’s lawyers at the Liberty Institute, which specializes in religious freedom litigation, said the clerk’s office was unable to issue the license on Thursday “because of software issues” and “lack of guidance” from the county attorney on using existing forms.

“The Clerk’s office was unable to issue a license at close of business on Thursday, even though everyone left with the understanding that one would be immediately available on the next business day,” said Jeremy Dys, senior counsel at the Liberty Institute. “The office was closed Friday. This morning, as of about 8:00 a.m., there is a marriage license waiting for the couple that has, for some reason, sued Hood County.”

Yeah, that’s a mystery to me too, pal. Congrats to Cato and Stapleton, and may the courts deliver a swift and decisive smackdown of Lang, so as to serve as a bucketful of cold water in the face of other derelict public officials and those that would enable them. More coverage from CBS Local and Hood County News, and be sure to see Bud Kennedy as well. Thanks to Somervell County Salon in the comments for the tip.

Lawsuit threatened in Hood County over clerk’s refusal to issue marriage license

I was beginning to think that none of Texas’ 254 County Clerks were going to attempt to martyr themselves in the name of their “religious freedom” to not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. I shouldn’t have worried.

Attorneys for a same-sex couple are preparing to sue Hood County Clerk Katie Lang after the couple was unable to obtain a marriage license.

Two Austin attorneys representing Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton, who have been together for 27 years, sent a letter to Lang on Thursday demanding that her office issue the couple a marriage license by the end of the business day or risk being sued in federal court Monday morning.

As of Thursday evening, the couple was unable to obtain a marriage license from the county, so attorney Jan Soifer confirmed that they would move forward with filing suit.

[…]

Citing her religious beliefs, Lang initially said her office would not grant same-sex marriage licenses.

She later backtracked, saying that she would “personally refrain” from issuing licenses but that other members of her staff would grant the licenses once “the appropriate forms have been printed and supplied to my office,” Lang wrote in a statement posted to the county website.

But obtaining those forms — the county clerk’s office told The Dallas Morning News — could take three weeks.

Pointing to revised forms available on the Department of State Health Services’ website, Soifer and attorney Austin Kaplan wrote that Lang had “absolutely no valid reason” to delay issuing marriage licenses.

“Our clients have been waiting for 27 years to marry, they have a constitutional right to obtain a marriage license in Hood County, where they reside, and there is no valid reason for them to have to wait ‘at least another three weeks’,” the attorneys wrote.

“Three weeks” to obtain those forms is the definition of BS. Here’s the latest survey of Texas’ counties, via Glen Maxey on Facebook at 9 PM on July 1:

So our friends at “Texans for Marriage” led by my great friend Nick Hudson give the Rainbow Report tonight:

Here’s where we are at end of day Wednesday:

235 Texas Counties — 93% — are either issuing marriage licenses already or are planning to issue licenses soon
At least 175 Texas Counties — 69% — said they were issuing marriage licenses by today
60 counties — 24% — say they are not currently issuing marriage licenses but plan to soon (this number may be lower IF the clerks in these counties have already started issuing marriage licenses. A full pass has not been made on the counties in this category in 24 hours.)
10 Counties unknown because nobody is answering the telephone

One of those 175 counties in that report was Hood. That was because Hood County Clerk Katie Lang had appeared to concede the fight. She hadn’t.

When last we heard Hood County Clerk Katie Lang wasn’t going to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples — because, she wrote, of “the religious doctrines to which I adhere” — but her staff would. Turns out, not so much: The clerk’s office now says it will take three weeks to get the proper paperwork. A woman named Virginia in the clerk’s office says only, “We don’t have the forms.”

As a result, two attorneys from Austin are on their way to Granbury at this very moment. They want just one thing: for the clerk’s office to issue a marriage license for their clients, Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton, who have been waiting to marry for 27 years. If they do not get one, says attorney Jan Soifer, she and attorney Austin Kaplan will sue the Hood County Clerk’s office first thing Monday morning.

“After [Lang] changed her tune Tuesday, my clients gave her a day and waited till this morning to get their license,” says Soifer. “They said, ‘No, no, no, it will take three weeks.’ They said, ‘We’re not ready to do it, we don’t have the forms ready.’ We sent them the link to the website with the form they are supposed to use. It’s posted. It’s available to them. We know 205 other counties in Texas have already been issuing them.”

But not Hood County.

Indeed. I suppose Lang could fold again, but I suspect this one is going to go to court. At this point, the professional grievance holders have arrived, and the crowds have been whipped up. That they have no legal led to stand on isn’t going to stop them. Someone is going to need to be smacked down, and the first someone in line for that is Katie Lang. As a wise man once said, hold on to your butts.