Judge rules that Joe Miller must pay state legal fees

June 24, 2011 

JUNEAU -- An Alaska judge on Friday ordered that failed U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller pay more than $17,300 in legal costs incurred by the state in fighting Miller's challenge to last year's election. But Judge William Carey said Miller won't have to pay legal bills for his rival, Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

In state court, when no money is at issue in the litigation, winning parties can seek up to 20 percent of their attorney fees. For the state, in this instance, that came to $17,373.85. Carey said Murkowski, who intervened in the case, was not a prevailing party.

Attorneys for all three parties said Friday afternoon that they hadn't seen the order and declined comment.

Miller sued over the state's handling of the election and counting of votes for Murkowski, who mounted an unprecedented write-in campaign after losing the GOP primary to tea party favorite Miller last August.

Miller initially filed in federal court, but the judge determined the issue would be better decided, at least initially, by the state courts. So he filed in Superior Court.

Three courts in all, including the Alaska Supreme Court, refused to overturn results favoring Murkowski. She was certified the winner in late December. Shortly thereafter, attorneys for the state and for Murkowski filed motions seeking legal fees.

Miller's attorneys objected, claiming among other things that Miller had only filed in state court because he was directed to by a federal judge. They argued granting attorneys' fees in this case would have a chilling effect on others seeking to challenge the handling of elections, and said some of the fees requested were unreasonable.

His attorneys, in court papers, also said Miller should not have to pay for fees associated with most of his claims because they revolved around protecting his constitutional rights and those of the more than 90,000 Alaskans who voted for him.

Carey, in a written order issued Friday, questioned that.

"The hearings and briefings revealed Miller arguing a fair election but addressing the margin of votes and the closeness of a possible 'win,'" he wrote. "The main thrust of this action was not, in this court's view, to altruistically promote and preserve constitutional protections, but to win an election, with the political and pecuniary benefits that would accrue thereby."

Murkowski will also have to pay the state $400 because she lost her effort to have the state count certain ballots toward her tally.

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