State told to pay $292K to firm that challenged sex offender laws

2012-12-26T20:00:00Z State told to pay $292K to firm that challenged sex offender lawsBy LORI PILGER / Lincoln Journal Star

A federal judge has ordered Nebraska to pay more than $292,000 in attorneys' fees in a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of changes to the state's sex offender registry laws.

But it was a fraction of the amount sought by the attorneys who represented the sex offenders who sued.

The laws, the most recent changes to the state's Sex Offender Registration Act, were passed in 2009 but put on hold as a result of the lawsuit before they were to go into effect in 2010.

Later that year, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf issued a ruling leaving much of the laws intact -- including publication of the names of all adult, convicted sex offenders -- but said a trial was needed to determine whether the three statutes violated the U.S. Constitution.

At a trial before Kopf in July, experts and convicted sex offenders testified one after another about how the changes would affect them and, in many cases, their work.

In October, the judge struck down the parts of the laws that would have made it a crime for some sex offenders to use social networking sites and require them all to notify the state whenever they posted on the Internet.

Federal law authorizes district courts to award reasonable attorneys' fees to prevailing parties in civil rights litigation.

Following the ruling in October, Stuart Mills, whose law firm Dornan, Lustgarten & Troia of Omaha represented the John and Jane Does, requested an award of $751,947.67 in attorneys' fees, $13,111.88 for preparing the application for attorneys' fees and $26,182.56 in costs.

Deputy Nebraska Attorney General Katherine Spohn, who represented the state, argued the amount was unreasonable and should be reduced substantially.

She proposed a total award of $248,207.81.

In an order Friday, the judge approved $292,564.88, the sum of $279,453 in attorneys' fees, plus $13,111.88 in fees to prepare the application.

In the order, Kopf pointed out the case started in 2009 and resulted in 534 filings and the preparation of at least 15 briefs by plaintiffs' counsel.

It also involved about 50 John and Jane Doe clients and more than 200 defendants, including the state of Nebraska, Nebraska attorney general, the Nebraska State Patrol, local prosecutors and various law enforcement officers.

The state still could appeal Kopf's October ruling.

Reach Lori Pilger at 402-473-7237 or or follow her on Twitter at LJSpilger.

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