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A judge has ordered the state of Utah to pay more than $475,000 in legal fees after it lost a court fight over a law that banned serving alcohol during the racy, foul-mouthed superhero film Deadpool.
U.S. District Judge David Nuffer handed down a strongly worded decision Wednesday denying state arguments that the price was too high.
“The political judgment of the state that it will enact a statute contrary to existing law and risk payment of legal fees is a legitimate choice, but it has consequences,” he wrote.
Lawmakers and the governor in the conservative, predominantly Mormon state had backed a law that is largely aimed at strip clubs but also prohibited serving booze during films with simulated sex or full-frontal nudity. A movie theater sued in 2016 after Utah regulators threatened to fine it up to $25,000.
The state defended the measure in court, calling liquor and sex an “explosive combination,” even after Idaho lawmakers repealed a similar law.
The Utah attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Nuffer struck down the law last year as a violation of First Amendment rights, ruling the theater Brewvies is not an adult-oriented establishment and Deadpool is a mainstream, R-rated movie.
Successful plaintiffs are often granted attorneys’ fees, and the state has conceded Brewvies was entitled to some money to cover its legal bills.
Liquor authorities were concerned about a suggestive scene in the film’s credits involving a cartoon unicorn, among other things. The theater’s attorney and former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson argued that the law was so vague it would apply to Michelangelo’s “David.”
His office was awarded about $475,000 in attorneys’ fees and an additional $3,800 in other legal costs. Nuffer did deduct $22,000 in proceeds from an online fundraiser that attracted a donation from Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds.
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