Fees Award to Women’s Rights Group Published

     (CN) – A women’s rights group that had to produce documents related to its role in the dispute over access to the contraceptive Plan B persuaded the 9th Circuit on Wednesday to publish a ruling awarding it attorneys’ fees.
     Legal Voice, which was formerly known as the Northwest Women’s Law Center, was at the forefront of the 2007 movement to have pharmacies in Washington state begin stocking and dispensing the contraceptive.
     Stormans Inc., owners of Ralph’s Thriftway, had religious objections to the effort and eventually served Legal Voice with a subpoena for, among other things, “any communications concerning the challenged regulations between the Law Center and the [State Board of Pharmacy], the Washington State Human Rights Commission, the Governor’s Office, and other advocacy groups.”
     The subpoena also sought “internal … communications pertaining to the regulations, as well as general information concerning the Law Center’s membership and employees,” according to court records.
     After Legal Voice fought the subpoena as overly broad and burdensome, U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton limited its scope in a clarification. Leighton later denied the group’s request for reimbursement of the $20,000 in costs Legal Voice incurred related to the discovery.
     An appeal remains pending after Tacoma, Wash.-based Leighton found the disputed rules unconstitutional, ruling that they were “designed … to force religious objectors to dispense Plan B, and they sought to do so despite the fact that refusals to deliver for all sorts of secular reasons were permitted.”
     Meantime, Legal Voice appealed Leighton’s refusal to either order costs or sanction Stormans for the subpoena, which the group called an “attempt to target specific organizations … who took an adverse position in the public debate in an effort to harass, intimidate, and discourage them from exercising their First Amendment rights to engage in free speech, to assemble, and to petition the government.”
     Noting that federal rules of civil procedure require the court to protect nonparties from “significant expense resulting from compliance” with subpoenas to which they have objected, the 9th Circuit granted Legal Voice some costs in late 2013 related to the District Court fight.
     This past March the 9th Circuit issued another order in the case, this time unpublished, finding that Legal Voice could also recover attorneys’ fees related to the appeal.
     The federal appeals court on Wednesday granted a request by Legal Voice to publish that opinion.

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