Dem Gov. Andy Beshear ordered by appeals court panel to pay $272K in attorneys fees to church-goers

 April 12, 2023

Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear was ordered on Monday by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to pay more than $272,000 in attorneys fees to a trio of church-goers who had sued him in 2020 over his pandemic-related ordered shutdown of in-person religious services, the Daily Caller reported.

Those three church-goers -- Randall Daniel, Theodore Roberts, and Sally O’Boyle -- were congregants of Marysville Baptist Church who filed a lawsuit in April 2020 after they were harassed by Kentucky State Police and threatened with forcible quarantine and prosecution for attending in-person an Easter service.

Injunction issued against shutdown order

In a 10-page order issued on May 9, 2020, a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit agreed to issue a preliminary injunction that blocked Kentucky Gov. Beshear from enforcing his prohibition against in-person worship services due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The request from the church-goers for relief had initially been rejected by a district court judge but was then granted on appeal by way of the circuit court's panel, largely due to the plethora of exemptions from the "mass gatherings" prohibition that Beshear had extended to dozens of non-religious and secular businesses and situations.

In considering the likelihood of success on the merits for the plaintiffs seeking an injunction, the judges determined that "The Governor’s restriction on in-person worship services likely 'prohibits the free exercise' of 'religion' in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments."

In noting that Beshear had failed to sufficiently explain why some secular activities were permitted but comparable religious services were not, the judges ultimately concluded, "But at this point and in this place, the unexplained breadth of the ban on religious services, together with its haven for numerous secular exceptions, cannot co-exist with a society that places religious freedom in a place of honor in the Bill of Rights: the First Amendment."

Attorneys fees awarded to plaintiffs

Fast-forward almost exactly three years and the same three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit once again considered the case of the Marysville Baptist Church congregants and the injunction they had been granted against Gov. Beshear's enforcement of the ban on in-person religious services.

This time, they were hearing an appeal from the governor instead of the congregants with regard to the amount of attorneys fees that a district court judge had awarded the plaintiffs for their victory in a civil rights-related case.

In a 7-page order issued on April 10, the panel affirmed and upheld the lower court's decision to award the church-goers a total of $272,142.50 in attorneys fees and proceeded to explain why they had rejected Gov. Beshear's arguments against any award being granted in this case.

The circuit judges concluded, "The district court has considerable discretion in determining the amount of a fee award, and this case offers no red flags of abuse. The court considered the Governor’s arguments, assessed the evidence and the congregants’ degree of success, and clearly explained its convincing 'reasons for the fee award.'"

Kentucky taxpayers on the hook to pay attorneys fees

In a post to Twitter celebrating the judgment and thanking his attorneys, congregant TJ Roberts wrote, "Three years ago today, @AndyBeshearKY told the people of Kentucky that they are not allowed to attend church during a Good Friday press conference. Beshear told the people of Kentucky that church goers will have their licenses taken down and they will be forced to quarantine, and face jail time."

"Today, three years after these insane lockdowns, the governor owes my attorneys more than 272 Thousand Dollars, more than a quarter million tax dollars, for this case alone," he continued.

"I know a lot of people who are outraged that the TAXPAYER is on the hook for ANDY’S constitutional violation. I share this outrage, but this outrage must be aimed at Beshear," Roberts added. "If the people of Kentucky want to quit being taxed to pay for these court judgments, Kentucky MUST elect a governor who will actually follow the constitution."

The Daily Caller noted that Gov. Beshear did not respond to a request for comment, nor does it appear that he has issued any sort of statement in response to the ruling, but to be fair, it was handed down on the same day that he was dealing with a tragic mass shooting incident at a bank in Louisville in which one of the deceased victims was a personal friend.

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