April 19, 2011 at 6:02 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Attorney fees for DOMA defense could reach $500,000

Paul Clement (photo courtesy King & Spalding)

The U.S. House has hired a private attorney to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court at a total sum that could reach $500,000 and at a blended rate of $520 an hour, according to a copy of the contract obtained by the Washington Blade and other media outlets.

The contract was entered by House general counsel Kerry Kircher, whom U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) charged with defending DOMA in court, and the law firm King & Spalding for the purposes of hiring Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general under former President George W. Bush.

According to the contract, the House has agreed to pay King & Spalding a sum not to exceed $500,000 for all services rendered in defending DOMA, the 1996 law that prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

“It is further agreed that payment for such contractual services may be paid on a partial basis from time to time and in such amounts as the General Counsel may approve,” the contract states.

It should be noted the $500,000 cap could be raised upon written agreement by both parties in the contract as well as the House Committee on Administration.

Additionally, Clement will be paid at a blended rate of $520 an hour for time expended in litigation of defense of DOMA in court and at 75 percent of this usual rate for all reasonable non-attorney time in connection with the litigation.

Notably, the House contract stipulates that King & Spalding not engage in the course of contracted activity in discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or any other prohibited basis — leaving out sexual orientation and gender identity.

On Feb. 23, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder notified Congress that President Obama determined DOMA was unconstitutional and that the Justice Department would no longer defend the anti-gay law against litigation in court. Following a 3-2 party-line vote in March by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Council, Boehner directed the House general counsel to take up defense of DOMA in place of the administration.

King & Spalding didn’t respond on short notice to respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the contract or the firm’s decision to permit Clement to defend the anti-gay law in court.

Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesperson, blamed the Obama administration for what he said was leaving Congress the responsibility of defending DOMA and requiring the House to hire a private attorney.

“Obviously, this whole thing would be unnecessary if the White House and the Justice Department would do their job and defend a law that was passed by both Houses of Congress and signed by the President of the United States – a Democratic President, at that,” Steel said.

But the revelation of the cost for hiring a private attorney to defend DOMA was met with criticism from the Human Rights Campaign and the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

HRC President Joe Solmonese noted that defense of DOMA places a burden both on gay couples and the coffers of the U.S. government.

“DOMA inflicts a great cost on same-sex couples but now its defense is burdening taxpayers to the tune of $520 per hour,” Solmonese said. “The firm of King & Spalding and their attorney Paul Clement should be ashamed at every penny earned in trying to justify discrimination against American families.”

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, lambasted Boehner for permitting this expense in defending DOMA.

“The hypocrisy of this legal boondoggle is mind-blowing,” Hammill said. “Speaker Boehner is spending half a million dollars of taxpayer money to defend discrimination. If Republicans were really interested in cutting spending, this should be at the top of the list.”

The degree to which the contract reveals the total cost of House defense of DOMA remains in question. The document only reveals the initial cost of hiring Clement and not expenses of the House general counsel.

Lane Hudson, a gay Democratic activist, said he thinks the contract hides other costs to the U.S. government in defense of DOMA.

“At contract rate of $520 an hour, it will fund one full-time lawyer for less than six months,” Hudson said. “Anyone who can count can see this is hogwash. Speaker Boehner should come clean on how much taxpayer money he will waste defending discrimination, especially given his rhetoric on reining in federal spending.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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