- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

ANNAPOLIS Opponents of a homosexual-rights law will have to pay part of the cost of reviewing signatures collected during a petition drive to put the law before the voters, a judge ruled yesterday.
Circuit Judge Eugene Lerner directed the three men to pay $4,000 of the $40,000 cost. The three intervened as parties in the suit so they could oppose attempts by supporters to invalidate enough signatures to keep a referendum on the law off the ballot next year.
Tres Kerns, a leader of the petition drive, said he and the other two opponents the Rev. Matt Sine and Mark Hart don't have the money and will be seeking contributions from other opponents.
"Some of the people here said they would try to help us raise the money," Mr. Kerns said after the hearing.
Judge Lerner scheduled the next hearing for Dec. 17 and indicated he would like to issue a final ruling at that time.
The law, passed by the legislature in April, would add sexual orientation to a law that prohibits discrimination based on other factors such as race, religion and gender.
It was scheduled to take effect Oct. 1, but was blocked temporarily when opponents filed petitions with 47,539 signatures to put the proposal on the ballot and let voters decide next November if it should become law. The petition contained 1,411 signatures more than required.
Supporters of the law responded by challenging the validity of thousands of signatures, and Judge Lerner appointed Walter Childs as a special master to review the signatures.
Judge Lerner will decide how many signatures are valid.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit and for the attorney general's office, which is defending the decision of state officials who ruled there were enough valid signatures, asked Judge Lerner to split Mr. Childs' fee equally among the three parties.
His decision to have Mr. Kerns, Mr. Hart and Mr. Sine pay 10 percent was a partial victory, but it did not satisfy them or their lawyer, Brian Fahling.
Mr. Fahling told Judge Lerner it was an unfair burden that would discourage other groups of citizens from conducting petition drives.
But Charles Butler, lawyer for the supporters of the anti-discrimination law, argued that the costs should be split evenly.
"It's a court cost, and all parties should be treated equally," he said.
Mr. Fahling said he will appeal Judge Lerner's ruling on sharing costs. The judge's ruling on the signatures also is expected to be appealed by the losing side.


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