Inmate who sued for gender surgery seeks $2.8M in legal fees

Nov 10, 2021, 1:53 PM | Updated: 2:08 pm

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A former Idaho inmate who became the first person to receive court-ordered gender confirmation surgery after suing the state Department of Correction is asking a judge to order the state to pay more than $2.8 million in attorney fees and other costs associated with the case.

The state has until Nov. 22 to respond to the motion from Adree Edmo, who is no longer in state custody. Gov. Brad Little’s office declined to comment on the case because it is still moving forward in court.

Edmo sued the state of Idaho and the Idaho Department of Correction’s health care provider, Corizon Health Inc., in 2017 saying that they violated her Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment by not providing the surgery. Prison doctors had diagnosed Edmo in 2012 with gender dysphoria, a condition in which the dissonance between a person’s gender identity and the gender they were assigned at birth is significant and hurtful. But medical professionals disagreed about whether Edmo needed gender confirmation surgery, leading to the lawsuit.

She won the case in federal district and appellate courts and the surgery was eventually scheduled for the summer of 2020, but Little followed through on a promise to fight the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court. In May of that year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused a request by Idaho state attorneys to postpone the surgery while the litigation continued.

“In July 2020, nineteen months after this Court ordered Defendants to provide Ms. Edmo surgery — and after another round of motions necessitated by Defendants’ failure to take necessary COVID-19 precautions to ensure surgery could move forward — Ms. Edmo finally received the treatment ordered,” wrote one of Edmo’s attorneys, Amy Whelan with the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Edmo’s legal fight didn’t end after her surgery, however, Whelan noted, it continued until October 2020, when the Supreme Court said it would allow the appellate court ruling to stand without review.

“Because this case involved the first transgender incarcerated person in the country to receive court-ordered surgery — a precedent that, while unique to the facts of Ms. Edmo’s case, was significant in the fields of constitutional rights and prisoner litigation — it was essential to protect the lower court rulings,” Whelan said.

Courts generally award attorney fees to the winning party based on the “customary amount” an attorney would charge for the work. But in certain cases — such as when the case is considered “undesirable,” or especially complex, or when the attorneys have extensive experience or performed exceptionally well — the court will allow the customary amount of fees to be doubled. Edmo is asking for double the customary amounts in her case.

“Here, nothing about this case was run-of-the mill,” Whelan said. Edmo had no attorney when she started the case, and no Idaho attorneys were willing to take on the case on their own.

In fact, the court had to ask local lawyers to represent Edmo, and then they only agreed because they had the help of outside attorneys with extensive experience in transgender civil rights cases and prison litigation. Besides dealing with the legal matters, the attorneys had to spend time “contending with the Governor’s politicization of Ms. Edmo’s case and intense public backlash,” Whelan said.

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Inmate who sued for gender surgery seeks $2.8M in legal fees