Montana Capitol

Montana Capitol

THOM BRIDGE, For The Gazette

HELENA — Attorneys who worked on a yet-unresolved case that has pitted the state against those who think campaign contribution limits here are too low say Montana is on the hook for more than $800,000 in legal fees.

The lawyers representing a group of individuals and political party committees have been battling the state over how much can be given to candidates running office since 2010.

Late Tuesday, attorneys for The Bopp Law Firm, with offices in Bozeman and Indiana, filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Helena saying they and past counsel are owed $819,673.79 for their work on a lawsuit filed by several county-level Republican political parties, political action committees and individuals who believe Montana's cap on how much can be given to candidates is too low.

On May 17, U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell agreed, striking down the limits as unconstitutional.

Though interim limits are in place while the state waits until the end of this election cycle to appeal Lovell's order, and a partial stay was granted to nix part of the order, the plaintiffs say the May 17 decision means they are "prevailing parties" and entitled to recover reasonable expenses and fees.

The pending appeal, the Bopp firm said in their filing Tuesday, means the estimated fees will rise as the case proceeds.

The defendants in this case, including Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl and Attorney General Tim Fox, oppose the motion to pick up the plaintiff's tab, the filing Tuesday said.

So far the firm has spent $695,759.25 on attorneys fees and $100,542.54 in expenses. Doney Crowley, who also worked on the case, estimates his fees and expenses as $23,372.

The Bopp firm asked for a decision to be made on paying the fees 30 days after the appeal is settled and the case is finalized, which could be months or longer.

The case was first filed in 2010 and has been through a previous cycle of an order striking down campaign contribution limits and a stay to reinstate the limits.

The state's defense has been handled by attorneys in the Attorney General's office. Those attorneys don't submit billable hours since they are salaried state employees. The office could incur expenses from paying for expert witnesses, but the spokesman didn't have a those costs Tuesday.

The law firm previously was awarded $69,000 in legal fees after Lovell's first order striking down Montana's contribution limits.

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Reporter covering statewide issues for The Billings Gazette.