July 11, 2014

Redistricting ruling: George Washington, appendages and detective work

Judge Terry Lewis took less than a month to write his opinion invalidating Florida's congressional map after receiving the final, written briefs from the parties but it is chock full of analysis, including some of his own detective work that led to him raise questions about the behavior of legislators and political operatives that we hadn't seen raised at trial.

Parts of it read as if he's piecing together a spy novel. (Lewis is, after all author of a few of those.)

Here's our first story. Here's the ruling. Let us know what you think and give us your observations. Download Romo.Final Judgment.July 10, 2014

July 10, 2014

Corrine Brown calls redistricting decision 'seriously flawed'

Rep. Corrine Brown, who teamed up with Republicans in the early 1990s to carve out a heavily African-American district, blasted the court decision calling her district into question. In a statement the Jacksonville Democrat said:

“The decision by Judge Lewis is seriously flawed. It completely fails to take into consideration the rights of minority voters or to recognize federal law, specifically the 1964 Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voting rights and clearly supersedes the state’s Fair Districts standards.

“After the Florida Legislature conducted several dozen hearings throughout the state of Florida in a bi-partisan fashion to include voter participation and input on their representation, the Legislature drew the current plan and it passed both the House and Senate.

“Prior to the 1992 election, Florida had not had a federal African American representative since Josiah Thomas Walls, in 1871, a time span of 129 years.  Nationally, prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, between the years of 1832-1965 (133 years), there were only 28 elected African Americans.  From 1965-Present (49 years), there were/are 103 elected African Americans (four times as many, in nearly one-third the time span).

Continue reading "Corrine Brown calls redistricting decision 'seriously flawed'" »

Judge invalidates Florida's congressional districts, appeal is likely

A circuit court judge threw out Florida's congressional redistricting map Thursday ruling that the Florida Legislature allowed for a "secret, organized campaign" by partisan operatives to subvert the redistricting process in violation of the state constitution.

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ordered two of the state's 27 districts to be redrawn to bring the map into compliance with the state's new Fair District amendments.

The 41-page ruling, issued late Thursday, raises questions now about whether the congressional map will be redrawn before the November elections or revised later. Any change in the political lines for Congress would have a ripple effect on other races.

The ruling in the lawsuit brought by a coaltion of voters and the League of Women Voters is expected to be repealed and ultimately decided by the Florida Supreme Court.

Lewis judge rejected challenges to districts in South Florida and that Tampa Bay but said that District 5, held by Democrat U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, and District 10, held by Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster of Winter Garden, "will need to be redrawn, as will any other districts affected thereby." 

"We were extremely gratified,'' said David King, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. 

Lewis blasted the role of the political consultants saying "they made a mockery of the Legislature's transparent and open process of redistricting" while "going to great lengths to conceal from the public their paln and their participation in it."

"They were successful in their efforts to influence the redistricting process and the congressional plan under review here,'' he wrote. "And they might have successfully concealed their scheme and their actions from the public had it not been for the Plaintiffs determined efforts to uncover it in this case."

He concluded, however, that the circumstantial evidence proved that the political operatives "managed to find other avenues...to infiltrate and influence the Legislature."

He drew no conclusions that House Speaker Will Weatherford, former House Speaker Dean Cannon, and Senate President Don Gaetz were aware of the scheme, but he raised doubts that they were not in some way complicit. Lewis detailed the involvement of Cannon's aide, Kirk Pepper, and repeated evidence that came out at trial about Pepper forwarding draft maps to GOP operative Marc Reichelderfer.

Lewis also noted that Legislative leaders and the political operatives destroyed almost all of their emails and other documents related to redistricting and concluded that the circumstantial evidence surrounding all of those developments, and the evidence that the consultants attempted to influence the same districts he has found problematic, proved the GOP operatives were trying to influence the process.

"There is no legal duty on the part of the Legislature to preserve these records, but you have to wonder why they didn't,'' he wrote. "Litigation over their plans was 'a moral certainty' as their lawyers put it earlier in the case, and intent woudl be a key issue in any challenge." 

He also defended his decision to allow the inclusion of documents from political consultant Pat Bainter into the record. Lewis rejected Bainter's claim that the documents were trade secret but that issue is now on appeal before the Florida Supreme Court, so Lewis closed the courtroom and sealed the documents to allow discussion of them during trial.

Lewis said they provided the evidence needed by the plaintiffs to show there was a secret, shadow redistricting process being conducted by the political operatives. "The evidence was highly relevant and not available from other sources,'' he wrote "....to show how extensive and organized" the shadow map-making process was "and what lengths they went in order to conceal what they were doing." 

Lewis tore apart the defense of the most controversial district in Florida's map -- District 5, a snake-shaped that runs from Jacksonville to Orlando that was first drawn by a court 20 years ago and which Brown has represented since then. Brown was so intent on leaving the district unchanged, that she challenged the constitutionality of Florida Fair District amendments adoped by voter in 2010, but she lost.

He said the decision by Republican leaders to increase the black voting age population in the district "was not compelling" but concluded it was done to improve the performance of surrounding districts to benefit Republicans. 

Lewis also concluded that the trail of emails and secret documents, which GOP operatives fought to keep out of the record, proved that "Republican political consultants or operatives did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process.

"They accomplished this by writing scripts for and organizing groups of people to attend the public hearings to advocate for adoption of certain components or characteristics in the maps, and by submitting maps and partial maps through the public process, all with the intention of obtaining enacted maps for the State House and Senate and for Congress that would favor the Republican Party," Lewis wrote. 

He concluded, however, that the legislative staff involved in drawing the maps were not part of this scheme and said that staffers Alex Kelly, John Guthrie and Jason Poreda were "straightforward, frank and credible." 

Lewis commended District 10 for following the requirement that districts be compact but he noted that an appendage added late in the process was "drawn to benefit the Republican Party and the incumbent," Rep. Webster.

He rejected claims by lawyers for the Legislature that a neighboring district was needed to be created to elected Hispanics and the appendage, which moved 80,000 voting age population out of Webster's district and another 71,000 into it, was needed to enable the partisan advantage. 

"The appendage benefited the incumbent Representative Webster by returning to District 10 territory that was part of his benchmark District 8 and improved the Republican performan of District 10 in two out of three elections relied upon by the Florida Supreme Court,'' Lewis wrote. 

Lewis also said the meetings held between legislators, political operatives and their staff involving Washington D.C. redistricting expert Ben Ginsberg raised some issues "that are troubling."

He noted that while the political consultants could have submitted maps, and showed intense interest in designing the maps, no on in the Legislature raised questions about why they didn't.

"I would think that the staff and legislative leaders would find it extremely strange, that they might even ask why not. But they didn't,'' he wrote. 

Lewis also raised questions about the decision by House and Seante leaders to ignore the potential political performance of most districts they drew and why they didn't concern themselves with the authors of publicly-submitted maps. 

"Turning a blind eye to the probability of improper intent in these maps is not the same as neutrality,'' he wrote.

June 24, 2014

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.

Continue reading "Another break-through ruling: Divided Supreme Court takes Bainter redistricting appeal" »

June 11, 2014

Plaintiffs file closing arguments and proposed order in redistricting trial

The coalition of voters challenging Florida's congressional districts filed a 30-page closing argument Wednesday, peppering the brief with blacked out sections that attempt to shield references to the political consultant Pat Bainter and his company.

They also filed their version of what they would like to see Judge Terry Lewis order, when he rules on the case by the end of the month. 

The defendants, the Florida House and Senate, will file their answer on Friday. More to come. 

Download Plaintiffs closing brief

Download Plaintiffs proposed order

June 03, 2014

Scott, Bondi, Weatherford and Gaetz: No investigation needed of fake name used in redistricting map

Posada mapWas a crime committed when a redistricting map was filed using the allegedly stolen identity of an individual?

That's the question left unanswered by Alex Posada, the former Florida State University student who testified under oath last week in the redistricting trial that his name was used to submit a congressional redistricting map without his permission. The map using his name became the foundation of several key portions of the final congressional map approved by legislators.

A group of voters is challenging the constitutionality of the 2012 congressional maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature. But when it comes to the authorities in charge, none of them -- all Republicans -- is calling for a separate criminal investigation into identity theft or the prospect that someone lied. 

"We are not going to comment during the ongoing trial.  We are in the middle of litigation and are letting the process continue,'' said Ryan Duffy, spokesman for House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

"As this is ongoing litigation, which our office is not involved in, it would not be appropriate to comment at this time,'' said Jenn Meale, spokeswoman for Attorney General Pam Bondi.

“This matter is in the hands of the judiciary,’’ said John Tupps, spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott.

And Raoul Cantero, the former Florida Supreme Court justice who is representing the Senate in the trial said this:  

“The Legislature’s duty is to draw districts in compliance with the Florida Constitution and federal law.  The name associated with a particular public map is irrelevant; what is relevant is whether that map provides helpful ideas in drawing constitutionally compliant maps.”

Added Katie Betta, spokeswoman for Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville: "Additionally, I would point out that we have no indication that a rule or provision of law was violated. If a law was violated, the State Attorney’s Office would certainly be better able to launch such an investigation."

We asked Willie Meggs, state attorney for the Second District in Leon County, to respond. He noted that if identity theft occurred, a law was violated, but he needs law enforcement to investigate it first.

 "It should be something for the FBI to investigate or FDLE to investigate,'' he said. "We'd be happy to prosecute if there's an investigation but it's got to be FDLE or the FBI -- and will they investigate?  Lord only knows."

 Gretl Plessinger, spokeswoman for FDLE, said no one has called for an investigation. 

 

 

 

June 02, 2014

Lawsuit shows how open government was a joke during redistricting

@MarcACaputo

Sometimes it takes a simple redistricting lawsuit to show us the funny side of the state Capitol.

Redistricting, the once-a-decade process of redrawing congressional and legislative boundaries, isn’t something that’s the stuff of big laughs.

But the lawsuit accusing legislative leaders of improperly drawing some congressional districts — chiefly for Republican gain — has dug up enough evidence to show that politicians’ talk about government in the sunshine is a big joke.

“It was an extremely open and transparent process,” Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, after giving testimony in the redistricting lawsuit, deadpanned to reporters.

Too bad he wasn’t intentionally self-mocking.

Continue reading "Lawsuit shows how open government was a joke during redistricting" »

May 30, 2014

Alex Posada, redistricting mysteryman: 'I misled you and I just wanted to apologize'

Posada Linked InIn a one-hour deposition in the offices of the plaintiff's attorney in the redistricting case, 24-year-old Alex Posada, whose name was faked as the author of a pivotal congressional map, began with an apology.

"We spoke a few weeks ago - I forget specifically when - but you had asked me if I'd submitted some maps and I misled you and I just wanted to apologize for that,'' Posada said to Vince Falcone, attorney for King, Blackwell, Zehnder and Wermuth, the firm representing the League of Women Voters in the lawsuit challenging the state's congressional maps. 

Photo: Posada's Linked In account as entered into testimony

Posada is the pivotal figure in the developing mystery over the legislature's maps. Legislators and their staff testified in the ongoing trial that significant districts from a map submitted under Posada's name became the foundation for the final congressional map. Republican Party of Florida map drawer, Frank Terraferma, has testified that at least seven districts from a congressional map he drew were "identical" to districts that appeared in Posada's map.

Who drew Posada's map and why it was submitted under false pretenses remains a mystery. The voters groups allege in their lawsuit that legislators allowed political consultants to conduct a “shadow” redistricting process that used go-betweens to create public maps intended to benefit Republican incumbents and candidates in violation of the Fair District amendments to the Florida Constitution.

Continue reading "Alex Posada, redistricting mysteryman: 'I misled you and I just wanted to apologize'" »

Terraferma 'genius map drawer' is called to testify again with new RNC docs

RNC docThe steady drip of new revelations continued in the ongoing redistricting trial on Friday as a Republican Party of Florida official was called back to testify about a redistricting meeting at Republican National Committee headquarters with Florida legislators.

Frank Terraferma, a RPOF official, testified via telephone in day nine of the trial over the state's congressional maps. Plaintiffs called him after receiving new documents subpoenaed from the RNC and ordered produced by a Washington, D.C. appellate court on Thursday. 

Terraferma was asked about an email from Jessica Furst Johnson of the RNC staff that announced a Florida leadership meeting for June 15, 2011 -- before the redistricting maps were drawn and the public hearings on the redistricting process had begun. Attendees at the meeting were listed as: Speaker Designate Will Weatherford, Senate President Elect Don Gaetz, Chris Money, Weatherford's chief of staff, Chris Clark, Gaetz's chief of staff, and Frank Terraferma who was identified as "genius map drawer."

Continue reading "Terraferma 'genius map drawer' is called to testify again with new RNC docs" »

May 29, 2014

Court closes redistricting trial to the public to shield GOP operative's documents

BainterThe public and the press were ushered out of Leon County courtroom Thursday in the redistricting trial over the state’s congressional districts during the testimony of Republican political consultant Rich Heffley.

The rare closing of the courtroom during an ongoing trial was authorized by the Florida Supreme Court after an emergency appeal by a coalition of voter groups who are seeking to get 538 pages of documents from GOP political consultant Pat Bainter of Data Targeting entered into evidence during the trial.

Photo: Pat Bainter, right, talks with his lawyers Kent Safriet and Thomas Philpot before testifying in the closed courtroom Thursday.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled 5-2 on Tuesday that Bainter’s documents, which he considers “trade secrets,” could be entered at trial but only if the courtroom is closed to the public and the media. The high court could decide at a later date whether the documents should be opened, but ordered the courtroom closed to avoid further delay in the trial which is scheduled to end next Wednesday.

Bainter’s lawyers, who initially sought the closed courtroom as an option, have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the ruling by Florida’s high court. Justice Clarence Thomas is the judge authorized the handle the motion.

The plaintiffs, led by the League of Women Voters and seven Democratic-leaning individuals, accuse legislators of allowing political operatives to conduct a “shadow” redistricting process that used go-betweens to create public maps intended to benefit Republican incumbents and candidates in violation of the Fair District amendments to the Florida Constitution.

Heffley testified Thursday during the open portion of the trial that he never drew any maps but frequently shared those created by Bainter, Republican Party of Florida official Frank Terraferma and GOP political consultant Marc Reichelderfer with others whom he did not name.

He said, however, that he was not aware that any of the maps the consultants produced were submitted by the public and said he did not know Alex Posada, the former Florida State University student who submitted a congressional map that included at least seven districts that were identical to those drawn by Terraferma.

“Yes I shared maps with other people and if they wanted to make modifications they could submit it,’’ he said. But he also denied knowing whether Bainter provided maps drawn by the consultants to Posada and other members of the public.

“He [Bainter] was sharing maps with other people and they were encourage his clients and other people to submit maps,’’ Heffley told the court.

Heffley, who testified that he was paid $20,000 a month for nearly two years to handle state Senate campaigns and offer redistricting advice. He called it a “global contract for all things Senate” and that his interest in the congressional map was only to assess what impact congressional races would have on state Senate campaigns.

“I didn’t care about Congress,’’ he said. “I wasn’t going to be involved in any congressional races. That wasn’t my mandate. That wasn’t what I was paid to do.”

Heffley said that his contract did not specify any job requirements and he produced no reports but was in frequent contract with Joel Springer, the head of Senate campaigns for RPOF. “They seemed happy. They signed the checks,” he said. 

The mystery man in the case so far is Alex Posada, a former FSU student and member of the university’s college Republicans. He submitted the map that became the foundation for the final congressional map drawn by legislators and it has become the most viewed public submission on the House’s MyDistrictBuilder web site.

Posada, who worked for one year at the Tampa-based lobbying firm Strategos Public Affairs after college, is now working in Orlando in the construction industry, said Bill Colletti, a spokesman for Strategos said. The firm was co-founded by House Speaker Will Weatherford’s brother Drew and former state Rep. Trey Traviesa. 

Heffley's testimony in the closed courtroom was followed by Bainter's testimony.