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Court orders $700,000 in legal fees for inmate's gender surgery fight

Published: Thursday, Dec. 20 2012 12:29 p.m. MST

In this May 24, 1990 file photo, Robert Kosilek is led to the county jail following his arraignment on drunken driving charges, in New Rochelle, N.Y. Kosilek, a convicted murderer in Massachusetts who won the right to get a state-funded sex change is also eligible to have legal fees, expected to top $500,000, paid as well, a federal judge ruled.

Associated Press

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A federal court this week ordered Massachusetts to pay $700,000 in legal fees as the state sought to overturn an earlier judgement requiring it to pay for the sex change surgery for Michelle Kosilek, a transgender inmate serving life in prison for strangling her wife, Cheryl, with a rope and a wire in 1993.

Chief U.S. District Judge Mark L. Wolf, who in September had ordered the state to pay for the surgery, specifically cast the legal fees as a sanction for the state's efforts to overturn his decision.

“Resistance at all costs can end up costing the taxpayers quite a lot,” Wolf said, according to the Boston Globe. “The repeated violation of constitutional rights of prisoners … costs taxpayers money that is needed for other purposes.”

In the interval, Kosilek's lawyers have also sought to compel the state to pay for electrolysis to remove unwanted hair. "Lawyers for Michelle Kosilek, 63, who was born Robert, are scheduled to appear in federal court today to argue that the hair removal treatments are a necessary part of Kosilek's physical transformation into a woman," according to ABC News.

Kosilek has been diagnosed with "severe gender identity disorder," according to the Wall Street Journal, and has been receiving hormone treatments since 2003. She has attempted to castrate herself and has twice attempted suicide.

“It is unusual to treat a prisoner suffering severely from a gender identity disorder differently than the numerous inmates suffering from more familiar forms of mental illness,” the judge wrote in his September decision, the Journal reported. “It is not permissible for prison officials to do so just because the fact that a gender identity disorder is a major mental illness not understood by much of the public and the required treatment for it is unpopular.”

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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