A federal judge said Wednesday that he will award more than $700,000 in legal fees to the team of lawyers who represented Michelle Kosilek, the convicted murderer who sued the state for a sex change operation to treat her gender identity disorder.
US District Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf said from the bench in US District Court in Boston that he recognized the cost to taxpayers, but said the amount comes from a hard-fought lawsuit to preserve Kosilek’s constitutional rights.
He noted that, while the state Department of Correction is appealing his decision to order the surgery, Kosilek’s legal team has offered to dismiss the request for legal fees if the state drops the appeal and pays for the surgery, which is estimated to cost as much as $50,000.
“Resistance at all costs can end up costing the taxpayers quite a lot,” the judge said, adding that the Department of Correction has had to pay hundreds of thousands in legal fees in other cases in which the department violated prisoners’ constitutional rights.
“The repeated violation of constitutional rights of prisoners . . . costs taxpayers money that is needed for other purposes,” he said.
Wolf said he will lay out the exact amount of fees owed to Kosilek’s legal team in several weeks, but said the total will climb to more than $700,000 based on early calculations.
The judge held several hearings, including a nearly two-hour session Wednesday, to decide on those calculations.
Kosilek’s legal team, led by Frances S. Cohen of Bingham McCutchen LLP, has been working on the case since 2000. They had originally asked for more than $800,000 in legal fees and expenses.
Kosilek was known as Robert Kosilek when he strangled his wife, Cheryl, in Mansfield in 1990 and dumped her body in a car at a mall in North Attleborough.
He fled to New York state before being arrested.
He said at the time that he was going through the transformation into a female and wore women’s clothing at his trial. He legally took the name Michelle in 1993 and has been living as a woman in an all-male prison in Norfolk since the conviction.
The Globe has chosen to identify Kosilek as a woman because that is the gender she identifies with.
The state Department of Correction had long opposed the sex change operation, saying that other methods could treat the gender identity disorder.
State officials also argued that the operation would create security risks.
After a decade of hearings and legal arguments, Wolf ordered in September that the state pay for Kosilek’s surgery, which can range in cost from $7,000 to $50,000, after finding that it was the only appropriate treatment for a serious medical condition.
Kosilek had tried to kill herself several times in prison, and the judge found that the state was neglecting her medical needs.
Wolf’s decision was the first time a judge has ruled that a sex change was necessary for a prisoner suffering from gender identity disorder, though it follows a series of rulings in Massachusetts and across the country that have affirmed that some type of medical care is constitutionally required.Milton J. Valencia can be reached at MValencia@
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