December 08, 2014

With Senate redistricting lawsuit pending, court releases disputed documents

The Florida Supreme Court on Monday thrust into the limelight yet another secret email that reveals the role of political consultants in the redistricting process that could have bearing on the pending lawsuit over Senate redistricting.

Tom Hofeller, of the Republican National Committee, wrote to Rich Heffley, a consultant to the Republican Party of Florida, which appeared to underscore the consultants' role in the redistricting process.

“Congratulations on guiding the Senate through the thicket," Hofeller wrote on April 27, 2012 after the Florida Supreme Court approved the disputed Senate maps. “Looks as if, so far, the Democrats have not realized the gains they think were [sic] going to get. Tom."

While the email won’t effect the congressional districts, which the Legislature revised and the courts have upheld, it could play a role in the pending lawsuit over Senate redistricting.

Heffley responded: “Thanks. Big win.” He then correctly predicted the Senate composition after the 2012 elections: “Worse case minus 2. 26-14.”

Lawyers for the voters groups obtained the email as the result of a subpoena in the now-completed lawsuit over congressional districts, in which they alleged that Republican political consultants conducted a "shadow" process to manipulate the redistricting maps in violation of the FairDistrict amendments to the Florida Constitution.

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November 18, 2014

Bainter wants court to stop release of docs so he can appeal to U.S. Supreme Court

Gainesville political consultant Pat Bainter is asking the Florida Supreme Court to halt its decision to force him to release of 538 pages of redistricting documents and trial transcripts so that he can have time to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a rare unanimous ruling from the state court, the justices ordered that the documents be unsealed by Nov. 20 because Bainter waited too long to argue that releasing them was a violation of his First Amendment rights. But Bainter told the court in a motion on  Tuesday that he wants to appeal the ruling to the nation's high court.

"Disclosure of the documents and sealed materials before the 90 day deadline expires would deprive the Non-Parties of the time needed to formulate the precise question(s) for a petition for writ of certiorari, and to then draft and file the petition,'' Bainter's attorneys wrote in a motion filed on Tuesday.  Download Filed_11-18-2014_Motion_for_Stay

He argued that the court should apply a heightened standard when concluding that someone has "waived" their federal rights. 

The Florida court ruled that “in accordance with the overriding public interest in openness to judicial proceedings and records, we direct that the sealed portions of the trial transcript, as well as the sealed documents themselves, should be and hereby are ordered unsealed.”

October 09, 2014

Courts says Legislature won't have to pay victor's attorney's fees in redistricting case


Terry LewisFlorida taxpayers will not have to pay for what could amount to millions in attorneys fees for the coalition of voters groups who successfully challenged the Legislature's drawing of congressional districts, a Leon County court judge ruled Thursday.

But Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis gave them a consolution prize: the Legislature, via taxpayers, would pay most of their costs. That's on top of the more than $7 million already spent on the Legislature's lawyers.

Lewis also gave the plaintiffs the comfort of knowing they were the victors.

"I find you to be the prevailing party,'' he told the plaintiffs at the conclusion of the 90-minute hearing in Tallahassee Thursday.

The statement was necessary because, as with everything in this bitterly-fought, two-year case, even the question of who won was in dispute. Employing every ounce of brass-plated legalese, the attorneys pounced on the question of who really won the lawsuit.

The Legislature's lawyers argued that because the court threw out only two of the 10 disputed districts that they had succeeded in defeating the voters groups and the plaintiffs should have to pay the Legislature's fees for going to court to battle over fees.

Arguing the Legislature acted in bad faith "when all we did was aggressively defend the case...is in itself in bad faith,'' said Raoul Cantero, lawyer for the Florida Senate. 

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October 01, 2014

Supreme Court to decide the fate of congressional redistricting plan, again

From the News Service of Florida:

A high-stakes legal battle about the constitutionality of the state's congressional districts should be fast-tracked to the Florida Supreme Court, a divided appeals court ruled Wednesday.

Under the ruling, the 1st District Court of Appeal would not take up a challenge to districts redrawn in August by the Legislature and to other decisions by a circuit judge. Instead, the case would go directly to the Supreme Court --- a relatively unusual move known as "certification" of the case to the higher court.

A panel of the appeals court, in a 2-1 decision, agreed on the certification issue with voting-rights groups that have waged a drawn-out legal battle about whether congressional district lines were drawn in 2012 and redrawn this year to favor Republicans. While the redrawn districts would not take effect until the 2016 elections, the majority of the appeals court pointed to the lengthy history of the case in deciding to pass it along to the Supreme Court.

"In this case, any doubts about the need for immediate review by the Supreme Court should be resolved in favor of certification,'' said the opinion, written by Judge Philip Padovano and joined by Judge Simone Marstiller.

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September 19, 2014

Court hears Bainter's challenge to releasing his emails, he warns of repercussions

BainterOne of Florida's top Republican political consultants stopped short of accusing the state Supreme Court of lacking "integrity" Friday if it rules that he must disclose emails in a case brought under the state’s new anti-gerrymanding laws.

Pat Bainter, whose firm Data Targeting Inc. has battled for two years to keep the documents private in a lengthy legal battle over the state’s redistricting maps, argued that the release of his emails violates his First Amendment right to anonymous political speech.

But after the justices – who have had access to the documents -- raised doubts about Bainter’s argument that they were trade secrets, he issued a blistering statement.

"Today’s Supreme Court hearing is the culmination of a legal assault and press sensationalism as to whether or not I, a private citizen, have the right to petition my government without fear of a political inquisition into my private matters," he wrote after the oral arguments. "After today's hearing, it is clear to me that, as interpreted by the Florida Supreme Court, Amendments 5 & 6 are unconstitutional because they criminalize political speech based upon its content."

Photo: Pat Bainter, left, consults with his attorneys before the courtroom was closed for his testimony about his undisclosed emails.

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GOP's Bainter says the Supreme Court's 'integrity' is at stake in his case before them

With his First Amendment challenge pending before the Florida Supreme Court, GOP political consultant Pat Bainter issued a rare statement calling out the court after oral arguments today in which he urged the court to keep secret his emails related to redistricting.

Bainter is now suggesting that the "institutional integrity of the court is at stake" in how they rule.

Here's the statement: 

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August 22, 2014

Judge approves legislature's fix for congressional maps, calls no special election

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Florida’s flawed congressional districts may remain in place for two more years and newly drawn boundaries for seven north and central districts don’t have to take effect until 2016, a Tallahassee circuit court judge ruled late Friday.

Judge Terry Lewis upheld the revisions to the state’s congressional map approved by the Florida Legislature during a three-day special session earlier this month. But he said the current configuration, which he ruled unconstitutional a month ago, could stand for the 2014 election.

“An election in 2015 is not a viable option,’’ Lewis wrote in his four-page order. “The 2014 elections will have to be held under the map as enacted in 2012.

That will come as a relief to U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, whose congressional districts were the target of the court’s criticism. Brown and Webster feared being elected to a new term in November only to have to face a special election possibly next year under the newly configured boundaries.

Lewis ruled on July 10 that congressional districts 5 and 10 violated the state’s Fair District rules against political gerrymandering. He then gave legislators until Aug. 15 to modify the map and fix two districts in particular. Lawmakers responded by calling a rare summer-time special session and modified seven of the state’s 27 districts, then appealed to the court to approve it.

Although the judge validated the legislature’s map, the fight is not over.

David King, lawyer for the League of Women Voters, one of the voters groups that challenged the districts drawn by the GOP-led Legislature, said they were disappointed in the ruling and will appeal.

Anticipatingn a protracted dispute, Webster recently set up a legal defense fund to help him finance any court fights that may emerge over his district.

Lewis wrote that he disagreed with the voters coaltion that argued the changes made to the original map were superficial and did not cure the flaws to Districts 5 and 10 and concluded that the Legislature’s “remedial plan adequately addresses the constitutional deficiences I found in the Final Judgment.”

He also rejected calls from the plaintiffs to create an east-west minority district that would stretch across North Florida from Jacksonville to Tallahassee. They argued it would allow minority voters to elect two blacks to Congress instead of one but, under the plan, Brown’s districtg would be dismantled and a new Orlando-based minority district would emerge as a coalition district for both Hispanics and African American voters.

“The Legislature is not required, however, to produce a map that the Plaintiffs, or I , or anyone else might prefer,’’ Lewis wrote. “The Legislature is only required to produce a map that meets the requirements of the Constitution.”

He noted that the plaintiffs “have not offered convincing evidence that an East-West configuration is necessary in order to comply” with the terms of the Fair Districts amendment approved by voters in 2010.

Lewis also rejected calls for a special session to implement the new map. He said that the plaintiffs “offered absolutely no evidence” to support their arguments that a special election could reasonably be held in time for the 2014 elections and thereby allowed the invalidated districts to remain in place until 2016.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, was thrilled with the ruling and even sounded happy the Legislature got a do-over.

“I am pleased with Judge Lewis’ speedy, thoughtful and conscientious decision,’’ he said in a statement. “I am especially relieved that our overseas military voters and those Floridians who cast their ballots early will have their votes counted this election. You know, sometimes life affords you second chances; I am glad we got it right on the second round.”

Here's the opinion:  Download Romo.Order Approving Remedial Redistricting Plan

 

 

August 20, 2014

Legislative lawyers detail role of national Democratic operatives in redistricting feud

Democratic operatives working for two national groups played a significant role in helping one set of plaintiffs in Florida's redistricting trial draw alternative maps that are now being offered as an alternative for the court to consider, according to depositions made public Wednesday in the trial.

The depositions were cited at a hearing before Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis by George Meros, a lawyer for the Florida House of Representatives. Meros worked to discredit a map presented by the the Romo plaintiffs, one of the voters groups that brought the lawsuit. The other group of plaintiffs is led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida. 

This is the second time that Democratic political operatives were found to be as interested in gerrymandering their districts as Republican operatives were accused of doing for their maps. According to records released last year, Florida Democrats plotted with congressional leaders and political consultants to redraw congressional districts to benefit their party, according to new court records that show they were just as interested in gerrymandering as Republicans.

Lewis ruled on July 10 that Republican legislative leaders allowed GOP political operatives to "infiltrate" the redistricting process and "making a mockery" of their claims of transparency. Unlike the Republicans, however, the Democrats do not control the Legislative process and there is no evidence to show that the maps drawn by their operatives were ever voted on by lawmakers. They have relied on the court as the venue for them to make their case about alternative maps. 

The plaintiffs now want Lewis to consider their map as an alternative to the one drawn by the Republican-led Legislature last week. Mero said the testimony showed that the map was drawn by Eric Hawkins, a consultant to the National Committee for an Effective Congress, a Washington-based consulting firm organization that works to elect Democrats.

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Racial divisions emerge as judge decides fate of congressional redistricting plan

Terry LewisThe racial tensions that coursed for years beneath the surface in Florida’s redistricting battle came into sharp focus Wednesday as lawyers for each side blasted each other for attempting to use black voters for partisan gain.

The arguments emerged at a hearing Wednesday called by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis to decide whether the Florida Legislature’s redrawn congressional map meets the constitutional standards imposed by voters in 2010.

Lewis said he will decide "as quickly as I can’’ whether to accept the new map drawn by legislators last week in a three-day special session. Legislators had until Aug. 15 to revise two congressional districts he ruled invalid – one held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Democrat, and the other held by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, a Republican.

At the center of the controversy is Congressional District 5, which has been held by Brown for 22 years since the Legislature linked together African American communities from North and Central Florida so they could elect the first black to Congress since Reconstruction.

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