BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A Kern County judge on Thursday gave a tentative ruling finding the state should pay attorney’s fees for Tastries Bakery owner Cathy Miller, but a final decision won’t be made until the matter is argued in late February.
Charles S. LiMandri, one of several attorneys who represented Miller after she was sued for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, said they are submitting $1.9 million in legal fees, having billed more than 2,600 hours since taking the case five years ago.
Judge Eric Bradshaw may grant a multiplier of their fees, giving additional consideration to their having to wait five years, LiMandri said after the hearing.
“You know, it sounds like a lot, but when you figure it costs a couple hundred thousand to run a law office every month, and this took five years, it’s not quite as much as it might seem like, even though we’re getting it all at one time instead of spread out over five years like most attorneys would get paid,” he said.
Limandri added, “We’ll know more of course after the next hearing . . . but at this point we’re very encouraged by the judge’s comments and by the way the argument proceeded today.”
Kendra Tanacea, an attorney for the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, argued through video chat that attorney’s fees should not be granted because the lawsuit, as Bradshaw found, was not frivolous.
Tanacea said Miller’s intent was an issue that needed to be tried.
“There is nothing frivolous about cases that clarify or develop existing law,” she said.
Miller was sued in 2017 after refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. In October, Judge Eric Bradshaw ruled in her favor, finding her “pure and expressive speech is entitled to protection under the First Amendment” and the baking of a Tastries wedding cake is “labor-intensive” and “artistic.”
Bradshaw said state attorneys for the Department of Fair Employment and Housing failed to prove Miller intentionally discriminated against same-sex couple Eileen and Mireya Rodriguez-Del Rio because of their sexual orientation. He said in his ruling Miller’s only intent was “fidelity to her sincere Christian beliefs.”
At trial, attorneys with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing argued Miller violated a California civil rights act which says all people, regardless of sexual orientation, must be given equal services at all businesses.
Miller’s lawyers said forcing her to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples would violate her religious beliefs that marriage should only occur between a man and a woman. They also argued the creation of a wedding cake is a form of artistic expression and the state cannot force a person to create a piece of art against their will.
LiMandri said the case may go up on appeal.
Miller, who attended the hearing, said she appreciates the time and diligence Bradshaw has spent on the case, is thankful for the hard work of her attorneys and looks “forward to seeing what God has in store for us in the next few weeks.”
This article will be updated.