Idaho’s government must pay $250,000 in attorney fees to animal rights advocates who successfully fought in court to overturn the state’s so-called “ag gag” law.
The 2014 Idaho Ag Security Act, which criminalized secret audiovisual recordings of farm operations, was held invalid last year by Chief U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill for unconstitutionally violating free speech rights.
Winmill has now decided that the Animal Legal Defense Fund and other plaintiffs are entitled under federal civil rights law to be compensated for prevailing in the lawsuit.
The judge reduced the amount sought by the plaintiffs by about $5,500 because he found that clerical work performed by a paralegal employee doesn’t qualify for compensation,
The state had asked for a much steeper decrease, to about $186,000, arguing the 980 hours billed by the animal rights attorneys was “grossly excessive” because they’d duplicated efforts or spent too much time on certain tasks.
The judge rejected this claim, concluding that “the number of attorneys assigned to the case, as well as the hours billed, were reasonable considering the novelty of the legal issues and the magnitude of the hearings in this case.”
Meanwhile, Idaho’s attorneys are trying to convince the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Winmill erred in ruling the law unconstitutional.
The animal rights activists wrongly believe the U.S. Constitution protects their ability to “lie their way into agricultural production facilities” to obtain records and make recordings with the intent of harming the farmer, according to the opening brief recently filed by Idaho.
The law simply prohibits an action, rather than conveying a message, according to Idaho.
“Recording simply captures images or sound and is not sufficiently imbued with any elements of communication that would warrant First Amendment protection,” the brief said.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is scheduled to reply to Idaho’s arguments by June 20.