Judge: Kansas must pay groups who challenged 'Ag-Gag' law

A federal judge awarded on Wednesday nearly $176,300 in attorney fees and expenses to animal rights advocates who successfully challenged provisions in a Kansas law that banned the secret filming at slaughterhouses and other livestock facilities.

U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil issued the award after finding earlier this year that the state's “Ag-Gag” law unconstitutionally criminalized free speech. Vratil issued a permanent injunction against it in April.

The law, which was enacted in 1990, had made it a crime or anyone to take a picture or video at animal facilities without the owner’s consent or to enter them under false pretenses.

In a 23-page ruling handed down Wednesday, the judge ordered Kansas to pay $175,317 in attorneys fees and $980 in expenses to opposing counsel. The litigation was brought by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Food Safety, Shy 38 Inc., and Hope Sanctuary.

Vratil noted that their lawyers comprise a small group that has collectively pursued every legal challenge to “Ag-Gag” laws across the country.

These lawyers therefore have a unique background and expertise on these specific laws, which involve “extremely complex and difficult constitutional issues of first impression” that intersect free speech and property, the judge wrote.