By Mary Hladky

Attorneys who prevailed in litigation that resulted in a court ruling striking down Boca Raton and Palm Beach County ordinances banning the controversial practice of conversion therapy on minors are now seeking $2.1 million in attorney fees and costs they incurred fighting the ordinances.
Liberty Counsel, which represented two therapists — Dr. Robert Otto of Boca Raton and Dr. Julie Hamilton of Palm Beach Gardens — stated in a June 12 federal court filing that its attorneys spent 2,274.8 hours representing their clients pro bono at a cost of $1.4 million.
The attorneys increased the amount they are seeking, saying they are entitled to a fee “enhancement” because the therapy provided by their clients and Liberty Counsel’s efforts to represent them are widely condemned by medical professionals and local governments that passed ordinances banning conversion therapy.
The attorneys represented the therapists without asking them to pay and now want to collect the amount they spent doing so from the city and county.
Conversion therapy seeks to change a person’s sexual identity or sexual orientation to align with heterosexual norms. Many professional medical organizations have denounced it for causing depression, hopelessness and suicide.
The city and county repealed their ordinances after a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2020 that the bans were unconstitutional because they violated the free speech rights of Otto and Hamilton and the full court declined to reconsider that decision.
In an effort to end the protracted litigation, the city and county both made “offers of judgment” earlier this year that Otto and Hamilton accepted. Boca paid Otto $50,000 and Hamilton $25,000. The county paid both Otto and Hamilton $50,000.
The offers did not specify how much the two governments would pay for attorney fees and costs.
In a June 26 response, the city’s outside attorneys said the amounts Liberty Counsel is seeking are “not reasonable” and “an excessive windfall” when compared to the hourly rates charged by Palm Beach County attorneys, and asked U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg to reduce the city’s share of the fees and costs to $213,000. The county had not filed a response as of June 26.
In a June 13 news release announcing that Liberty Counsel was seeking fees and costs, founder and chairman Mat Staver said, “Minors who are struggling with gender confusion now can get the help they need from counselors who are free from political censorship. As a result of the victories over these counseling bans, Liberty Counsel is now entitled to attorney’s fees and costs.”
City Council members repealed Boca Raton’s ordinance last August. Shortly thereafter, they adopted a resolution that opposed conversion therapy on minors.
Otto, who spoke to council members at a June 13 meeting, noted the resolution was almost identical to the ordinance.
“That is offensive,” he said. “It shows you don’t understand the Constitution of the United States.”
He asked council members to repeal the resolution. They did not respond.

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