WILLIAMSPORT, Pa.—A federal judge who last spring struck down key provisions of Pennsylvania law governing funeral homes and undertakers, calling them antiquated and unconstitutional, has now ordered the state to pay more than $1.1 million in legal fees in the case.

U.S. Middle District Judge John E. Jones III cited challenges faced by the 33 funeral directors and funeral homes who were plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

In May, he criticized the State Board of Funeral Directors for failing to update regulations on ownership of funeral parlors, the use of trade names and a host of other issues raised by the plaintiffs. In his latest order, he accused the defendants of "the very epitome of bad faith" in much of their conduct and "an almost cavalier disregard" of his earlier ruling.

The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News ( http://bit.ly/OcbSIz) says Jones also on Wednesday issued an injunction barring the board from enforcing the sections he declared unconstitutional. That means the funeral homes will be able to serve food, will not be subjected to warrantless inspections, may share a supervisor with another location and can pay unlicensed employees without fear of prosecution.

Post & Schell, a Harrisburg-based law firm, had sought nearly $1.4 million in attorneys' fees, saying its attorneys spent nearly 6,000 hours on litigation it contends will "have a profound, and positive, impact on the funeral profession and the public." The judge cut back the amount a bit but said he was awarding fees "commensurate with the herculean and focused work" of the legal team.

The circa-1952 Funeral Director Law bars a licensed undertaker from owning or even working at more than two homes, requires that every funeral home maintain an expensive "preparation room" even though it may not be needed, and mandates that in most cases funeral homes must be named after the proprietor, something Jones called an illegal infringement on commercial speech.

The law also limits ownership of funeral homes to licensed funeral directors and their spouses, children and grandchildren. That has the effect of restricting competition, the plaintiffs said, while discriminating against gay or lesbian owners who are unable to bequeath it to their partners.

Jones' ruling in May told the board to craft regulations that "appropriately govern the funeral industry in this, the twenty-first century."


Information from: The Patriot-News, http://www.pennlive.com/patriotnews