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Battle over release of partisan redistricting docs goes back to court today

The bitterly fought redistricting battle will take another turn today in a Tallahassee courtroom as Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis is asked to reject allegations that the political consultants who helped Republican Party leaders determine the political performance of their maps be ordered to produce their internal emails and documents in the long-simmering dispute. 

The consultants, Pat Bainter, Matt Mitchell, Michael Sheehan of the Gainesville-based Data Targeting, and GOP consultant Frank Terraferma, have asked the court for a protective order after Lewis in May held them in contempt. They had been ordered to turn over the documents in October 2012 but have resisted allowing the plaintiffs in the case, the League of Women Voters and the Fair Districts coalition, to review them claiming the data sets and political analysis are trade secrets.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs are asking Lewis to put an end to the year-long standoff. 

“This cat-and-mouse game has gone on long enough,'' wrote plaintiffs attorney Adam Schachter in his response brief.  Download 2013.08.20 Coalition Plaintiffs' Response to Non-Parties' Motions for Protective Order with Exs. A-F

The case is one of two lawsuits against the legislature alleging that the final maps drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature violated the 2010 Fair Districts constitutional amendments by gerrymandering districts to give an advantage to Republicans candidates across the state.

In his response to their request for a protective order, Schachter notes that Data Targeting was paid $3 million from the Republican Party of Florida from January 2011 through November 2012 and should not be allowed to be shielded from releasing its documents on the grounds that it could have a chilling effect on other clients who are afraid to associate with them.

“As highly paid mercenaries, the Political Operatives are the last group to which an associational privilege should apply. The privilege is intended to protect citizens who petition their government for change, not those who earn their living by advancing the political agendas of paying clients,'' Schachter wrote.

Data Targeting worked closely with former Senate President Mike Haridopolos, the Republican Party of Florida, and other legislative candidates whose districts were re-drawn by lawmakers last year. 

The case was originally scheduled to go to trial this month but Lewis granted the lawyers an extension until January to give the plaintiff more time. The League wants to put legislators under oath to ask them questions about their political intentions when they drew the maps but a divided appeals court ruled that legislators couldn't be put under oath and it is now awaiting a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court.

Lewis had ruled that legislators can be called to testify on a narrow set of issues that could show whether they violated the Fair Districts amendments but the divided court rejected that argument.

Since then, Republican political consultant Marc Reichelderfer acknowledged in a deposition that he and other GOP political consultants privately met with staff members working for Senate President Don Gaetz and former House Speaker Dean Cannon to “brainstorm” about redistricting.

He also testified that he was provided with copies of seven proposed congressional redistricting maps weeks before the Legislature’s maps were made public so that he could provide advice and input to Cannon and others. 

In his deposition, Reichelderfer was asked, “You got them for a reason, isn’t that right?”

He responded, “I assume it was for a reason.”

Asked if it was to determine how the maps performed politically, Reichelderfer said, “I could have done that, yes, sir.”

The fight over releasing records has gone both ways. Attorneys for the House and Senate have attempted to get emails and documents put into the record from Fair Districts and its chairwoman, Ellen Friedin, arguing that she was fundamentally involved in proposing maps proposed by some Democrats.

Emails from Friedin in 2011 that have been released to the media show that she was as much of an advocate for Democratic districts as she is accusing Republican legislators of being for Republican districts. Other documents show that the Democrat-leaning Fair Districts organizers hired consultants to draw maps that were designed to "scoop" Jewish voters into the district of U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, and to target the districts of Republican Reps. Vern Buchanan and C.W. "Bill" Young.