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Sued Cruces clerk uses social media for legal expenses

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LAS CRUCES – A New Mexico county clerk facing a lawsuit over his decision to issue same-sex marriage licenses is using social media and other means to solicit outside support for legal expenses.

Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins hopes backers of same-sex marriage will help pay legal fees from a pending lawsuit filed by state Republican lawmakers, as he moves to defend his decision to issue the licenses, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

Ellins independently began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples two weeks ago. Since then, seven other New Mexico counties followed – some because of court orders in response to lawsuits by same-sex couples.

Ellins says he “felt it was inappropriate” to use county resources to pay the legal fees, because the case involves polarizing topics. Taxpayers who disagree with his stance shouldn’t be forced to pay for a lawsuit he sparked, Ellins said.

He plans to cover the costs using donations and a portion of county insurance that covers legal fees. Ellins said he has not engaged the services of the county’s legal department.

A group of Republican legislators filed a lawsuit last week in 3rd Judicial District Court, alleging Ellins, a Democrat, overstepped his authority and violated the New Mexico Constitution. In the lawsuit, the seven legislators ask the court to invalidate all same-sex marriage licenses issues since Aug. 21.

Ellins said his attorney, Raul Carrillo of Las Cruces, has estimated the defense will cost $40,000.

Ellins’ office this week started using its Facebook page to request legal defense donations, starting at $5.

Another perspective donor website – equalitydonaanacounty.com – says it’s paid for by private funds. That site reported Thursday it has received $6,715 from 152 contributors.

Ellins said that number didn’t account for all the donations. He declined to release the total.

When asked whether there were any notably large individual donations, Ellins said he did not know.

“I don’t want to know who contributed or how much,” Ellins said. “I don’t want anyone to think my judgment is colored.”

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