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Judge won't issue 2nd contempt order against GOP operatives

Even the judge is running out of patience.

"I'm not going to put the blame on anyone but I want this thing overwith," Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said Thursday.

"This thing" is a long-running lawsuit in which the League of Women Voters and other groups are trying to prove that Republican legislators drew the 2012 redistricting maps for congressional and state Senate seats in violation of the state Constitution, which bars gerrymandering that protects incumbents or political parties.

To build their case, plaintiffs have been trying for a year to get access to thousands of pages of emails and documents from a GOP consulting firm, Data Targeting, and three principals in the firm: Pat Bainter, Matt Mitchell and Michael Sheehan, who are not parties to the case. When Lewis ordered the documents released last spring and then issued a contempt order, the group took legal steps to keep them private, but Lewis denied the plaintiffs' motion that he again cite the firm for contempt of court.

Their lawyer asserted in court that the documents are "private business," constitutionally protected either by freedom of association under the First Amendment or are trade secrets under state law.

"It's an invasion of privacy, period," lawyer D. Kent Safriet told the judge. "This case is being tried in the newspapers as well as in court, and we didn't want our private business out there."

"Political shenanigans are not state secrets," countered Adam Schachter, the attorney for the League of Women Voters and the Fair Districts Coalition. Lewis also refused Schachter's request that he impose "severe sanctions" on Data Targeting for not complying with the previous court order.

The problem is that Lewis doesn't know enough about the contents of all of the 1,800 disputed pages of documents to decide which ones should be secret and which should be released. Retired Supreme Court Justice Major Harding will review the materials and make a report to Lewis.

Additional reporting can be found here. The trial, in state court in Tallahassee, will most likely occur in early 2014.

-- Steve Bousquet