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MONDAY, AUGUST 7, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Best way to avoid legal fees is to do what law requires

A Kansas senator cited an Alabama example when he spoke out in support of a bill to keep taxpayers from having to pay the ACLU's legal fees.

"Groups with a partisan political agenda should not have their legal costs reimbursed by state and local governments," Republican U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback said. He supports the Public Expressions of Religion Act, which would require parties to pay their own attorneys' fees in religious freedom lawsuits brought under the First Amendment.

The proposed legislation would keep "well-heeled activist groups" such as the American Civil Liberties Union from taking advantage of a current law designed to reimburse poor individuals who pursue civil rights cases, Sen. Brownback says.

Here's his Alabama example: "When several groups won a case in Alabama to remove a Ten Commandments display from a courthouse, taxpayers were forced to pay the ACLU and others nearly $500,000."

That is an obvious reference to the federal court case that forced Roy Moore's Ten Commandments monument out of the state Judicial Building in Montgomery.

We agree that the taxpayers should not have been forced to pay a dime of those legal fees. But the best way to prevent it would have been for Mr. Moore, then the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, to obey the law before somebody filed suit.

He was not the first Alabama official who preferred to be sued rather than doing his duty. During the civil rights struggles a few decades ago, elected officials often refused to do the right thing until the courts forced them. They were trying to appease voters. Somebody labeled this behavior the "punting syndrome."

The best way to keep taxpayers from having to pay fees for unnecessary lawsuits would be to require the erring public officials to pay the money out of their own pockets.

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