Citizens Sue Rogue Judge Roy Moore to Recover $549,000 in Legal Fees

Roger Cleveland, an activist with the Freedom From Religion Foundation and its Alabama chapter, has gone to court with other Alabama citizens to ask that former State Chief Justice Roy Moore pay the whopping $549,430.53 in legal fees incurred by plaintiffs suing him. The full cost to Alabama citizens is expected to be in excess of one million.

The settlement was reached on April 15 with attorneys of the three groups that sued Moore to remove the five-ton Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building last year.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State will split the fees. The law center claimed it cut its fees by about $250,000.

“The fact remains that former Chief Justice Moore’s actions cost the state over half a million dollars,” Law Center staff attorney Danielle Lipow told the Montgomery Advertiser.

Moore was removed from office after being found guilty of ethics violations by a judicial panel, including willfully disobeying a federal court order to remove the monument–an order that was let stand by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Typically, a government official sued in his official capacity is protected from personally paying fees. However, the 11 plaintiffs allege that Alabama law permits recovery of wrongfully expended funds.

Roger Cleveland is a co-founder of the Alabama Freethought Association, and has served as its director. The Foundation named Roger “Freethinker of the Year” in 1993 for his successful lawsuit against the Alabama State Parks for establishing chapels and giving churches preferential treatment.

Other plaintiffs in the new lawsuit include Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics. Plaintiff Lawton Higgs is an ordained United Methodist minister, and Karen Mattelson and Jack Zylman are both Unitarian Universalist ministers.

The lawsuit naming Roy Moore as defendant has been filed in the circuit court for Montgomery County, Ala., civil division.

The plaintiffs allege that the funds were wrongfully expended “as a consequence of defendant’s neglect or intentional malfeasance while an official of the State.”

The lawsuit points out that Moore executed a deed to the religious monument which included a reversionary clause restoring ownership to himself individually upon ceasing to serve as chief justice. This, the lawsuit adds, permitted him to “derive any and all profits from the use of the monolith’s image.”

The plaintiffs claim Moore, who was previously sued over his religious actions as a circuit judge, should have known the installation in a government building of a Ten Commandments monument without notice and by stealth would result in a legal challenge.

Although the Attorney General had the duty to defend Moore, Moore sought his own counsel, making public statements that the costs of the defense would not be borne by the taxpayers of Alabama. Moore’s repeated statements that the purpose of installing the monolith was to “acknowledge God” and promote the “word of God” provided no constitutional defense of his actions. The complaint details Moore’s defiance, forcing ever more costly lawyers’ fees, including Moore’s contempt of court.

“Defendant was never at any risk in the federal court litigation that his own money would be used to pay the fines, attorneys’ fees or court costs despite his knowledge that such fines, fees and costs would inevitably result from his intransigence and frivolous defense of the merits of the case. At the end of that litigation, he abandoned his promise that the citizens of Alabama would not have to pay the costs and continued to generate more costs in his vexatious and pointless litigation.

“Defendant’s clear intent, despite his rhetoric, through the litigation was self-aggrandizement and personal profit.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation