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Another break-through ruling: Divided Supreme Court takes Bainter redistricting appeal

The unprecedented rulings keep on coming. A divided Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear the question of whether 537 pages of documents of political consultant Pat Bainter should have been introduced in a lawsuit by a coalition of voters groups challenging the state's congressional redistricting maps.

In a 5-2 decision, the court said it would decide the case at the urging of the appeals court last week. It ordered that briefs be filed on a schedule, concluding on July 31. The majority offered no reason for its decision but Chief Justice Ricky Polston, who was joined in the dissent by Justice Charles Canady, scolded the other justices for accepting the case.

"We take jurisdiction of this case to do what?" Polston wrote. " ... The procedural posture of this case is unprecedented and bizarre." Download SCOFLA certifies Bainter redistricting

The challenge to the state's congressional districts was brought by a coalition of voting groups led by the League of Women Voters. Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis is expected to rule on the case any day. The parties submitted their final arguments to Lewis nearly two weeks ago, but the fate of 537 pages of documents produced by Bainter and his Gainesville-based consulting firm, Data Targeting, Inc., remains in dispute.

Bainter claims the documents -- emails, proposed maps and other communications -- are trade secrets and releasing them in the redistricting dispute violates his First Amendment rights. Lewis ordered the documents sealed unless they were admitted as evidence in the case.

Bainter appealed Lewis' ruling, and the First District Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay, which kept the documents under seal and forced the closure of the trial to the public when Bainter was called to testify.

Last week, a divided appellate court voted 5-4 to reverse a previous ruling of three conservative members of that court and voted to pass the question surrounding Bainter's documents to the Florida Supreme Court.

This is the second time that the precedent-setting redistricting case has clearly exposed the divides within the courts.

The four appellate court dissenters in the ruling last week -- Wetherell, Lewis, Makar and Marstiller -- were that panel's most conservative justices. Wetherell even wrote a dissent protesting that the process of using the full court en banc was abused to overturn the three justices. Download First DCA certifying Bainter redistricting

Polston and Canady, both Republicans, who wrote the dissent today are consistently the two most conservative on the Florida Supreme Court bench.