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Utah to pay outside attorneys $300K to help defend same-sex marriage ban

Thursday, January 16, 2014
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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah will spend $300,000 to bring in a team of three outside attorneys to help defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban before a federal appeals court.

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The Utah Attorney General’s Office announced Thursday it has chosen Gene Schaerr of a Washington, D.C., law firm to lead the legal team. Schaerr has handled dozens of cases before federal appeals court, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a news release.

Schaerr has agreed to charge the state $200,000, which officials characterized as a discounted rate. The state will pay attorneys John Bursch and Monte Neil Stewart $50,000 each to help out. Bursch is employed by a law firm in Michigan, while Stewart works for an Idaho firm.

The three out-of-state attorneys will get help from two lawyers at the Utah Attorney General’s Office.

Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, pledged to defend Utah’s same-sex marriage ban after a federal judge overturned it Dec. 20. Utah has appealed to the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Hundreds of couples married in Utah before the U.S. Supreme Court halted the weddings Jan. 6.

The state’s first motions are due to the 10th Circuit by Jan. 27.

Reyes previously said he was willing to spend whatever it took to defend the law passed by two-thirds of Utah voters in 2004. He said he heard it could cost about $2 million.

Attorneys on the other side of the case also are enlisting help. Salt Lake City attorneys Peggy Tomsic and James Magleby will get help from lawyers at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

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Reyes called Schaerr an expert on the Supreme Court. He also said Schaerr used to live in Utah so he understands the state’s unique history and community. Schaerr is a partner at the Winston and Strawn law firm.

He graduated from Brigham Young University and earned his law degree from Yale, according to his bio on the firm’s website. Schaerr was a law clerk for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger and current Justice Antonin Scalia, and also spent two years as associate counsel to President George H.W. Bush.

If Utah’s case moves to the U.S. Supreme Court, the costs of hiring the team of private attorneys would be about the same, Reyes said.

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