November 21, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court denies stay in Bainter case

The U.S. Supreme Court won't keep secret documents used in Florida's redistricting case out of the public eye.

Gainesville political consultant Pat Bainter had asked the high court to keep the documents sealed while he appeals a Florida Supreme Court ruling mandating their release. But Justice Clarence Thomas denied the request Friday.

The documents will be made public on Dec. 1.

The emails and trial transcripts were part of a legal challenge to the Florida Legislature’s 2012 redistricting plan. In that case, Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis rejected the Congressional map and said Republican consultants like Bainter had engaged in a "secret, organized campaign" to create gerrymandered districts.

Several voters rights groups asked for the documents to be unsealed. But Bainter has been fighting to keep them private, arguing that their release would both reveal trade secrets and violate his first First Amendment rights.

November 20, 2014

Florida Supreme Court grants 10-day stay for secret redistricting docs

The clock is running out on political consultant Pat Bainter.

The Florida Supreme Court has ordered the release of emails and trial transcripts used in the recent redistricting case -- documents Bainter considers private and has been battling to keep out of the public eye. 

Earlier this week, Bainter asked the court to keep the records sealed so he could appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

But Florida's high court is giving him just 10 days, according to an order issued Thursday. 

The order states that "no further stay will be granted."

"This court has unanimously concluded that the documents and testimony must be unsealed, and the public's right to view these materials that the trial court relied on in rendering its final judgment has been delayed long enough," Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in a concurring opinion.

That means unless a further stay is granted by the U.S. Supreme Court, the records will be unsealed at 3 p.m. on Dec. 1.

In her opinion, Pariente seemed doubtful that the nation's high court would take the case.

"I fail to see any federal question as a basis for obtaining certiorari review in the Supreme Court" she wrote, adding that she had granted the 10-day stay "only out of deference to the United States Supreme Court."

November 13, 2014

Supreme Court: Redistricting documents should be made public

The state Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that secret documents used in the high-profile redistricting case should be made public.

"We affirm the trial court’s ruling requiring production of the 538 pages of disputed documents," the justices wrote in a rare unanimous ruling. "For all these reasons, and 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."

The documents were initially requested by a coalition of voters groups who challenged Florida's recently-redrawn congressional districts.

Political consultant Pat Bainter had argued that the release of his emails would violate his First Amendment right to anonymous political speech. His firm, Data Targeting, has battled for two years to keep the documents private.

The Miami Herald and several other news organizations had filed a friend of the court brief saying the documents admitted in trial should be disclosed.

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.

Continue reading "Court hears Bainter's challenge to releasing his emails, he warns of repercussions" »

August 29, 2014

Voter groups appeal newly drawn congressional map in latest redistricting challenge

@tbtia

The coalition of voter groups that originally challenged maps draw during redistricting efforts in 2012 said they will also apeal newly draw maps approved earlier this month by a Leon County circuit court.

Last week, Judge Terry Lewis upheld the revised congressional map that the Legislature approved during a three-day special session. Lewis said the new map corrected what he had determined were violations of the state's Fair District rules against gerrymandering. The new map updated boundaries for congressional seats currently held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, along with adjoining districts.

Lewis ruled that the new map would go into effect for the 2016 election. Both Brown and Webster are running for re-election now under the old boundary lines.

The coalition that originally challenged that map said the new one doesn't fix the issues they've raised and have criticized Lewis' ruling. They said the changes the Legislature approved to districts 5 and 10 didn't go far enough to fix the political gerrymandering.

The voter groups have now asked the state's First District Court of Appeal to look into Lewis's rulings. The coalition, which includes the League of Women Voters of Florida, the NAACP and Common Cause, makes it clear their fight is focused on changing the maps again in time for the 2016 election.

The First DCA has twice ruled against the voters groups on redistricting appeals but the Florida Supreme Court has twice overturned those rulings.

August 22, 2014

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

RedistrictOldNew

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.

Continue reading "Legislative lawyers detail role of national Democratic operatives in redistricting feud" »

August 18, 2014

Plaintiffs oppose redrawn congressional map, ask the court to draw districts

 RedistrictOldNewArguing that a newly drawn District 5 will establish a benchmark district "further entrenching the Republican Party in its position of power" the voters groups that brought the lawsuit against the Legislature are asking a judge to draw new congressional districts that would take effect this elections cycle in documents filed today.

"The Revised Plan emerged fully formed from a series of meetings held behind closed doors and then sailed through the special session without modifications while any opposing voices were ridiculed, distorted, or simply ignored,'' writes the lawyers for the group of voters led by the League of Women voters and Common Cause of Florida.

"The dispute over the Revised Plan centers primarily around District 5 and its surrounding districts. Legislative Defendants have again adopted a snakelike north-south configuration of the district that marginalizes minorities by concentrating them into a single district, harms tier-two compliance overall, and conspicuously benefits Republicans in surrounding areas." Here's the brief:  Download 2014 08-18 Jt-Objection to Defs Remedial Map (9057)

Graphic: Legislative congressoinal plans old and new

August 14, 2014

Secretary says he's on track to meet noon deadline for congressional elections plan

Florida’s top elections official said Thursday he is prepared to meet the noon deadline Friday to present a proposed special election schedule for the new congressional districts passed by the Florida Legislature this week. 

Secretary of State Ken Detzner told supervisors of elections on a conference call Thursday that he was preparing “to give the court our definition of what it would take to run an election with regard the new maps.”

Legislators hope the judge rejects the options, and they expect Detzner to show how costly it will be to hold special elections in seven counties for seven slightly-modified congressional districts.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis invalidated the first map and ordered Detzner to propose a new elections schedule. He concluded that two districts, District 5, represented by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and District 10, represented by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, were improperly drawn with the intent to benefit Republicans.

The legislature concluded its three-day special session on Monday, revising seven of the state’s 27 congressional districts in response after its original map was declared an improper partisan gerrymander. Gov. Rick Scott signed the plan into law on Wednesday.

Although legislators remain confident that the new map will be approved by Lewis, two voting-rights groups that brought the lawsuit challenging the original districts said they will fight to have the new map rejected.

"We are disappointed to see that the remedial map approved this week by the Florida Legislature looks suspiciously like the map that Judge Lewis ruled unconstitutional and the fact that it was drawn behind closed doors only adds to the suspicion," said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida in a statement.

"The Legislature has a duty to abide by the Constitution, which they swore to uphold and enforce," said Peter Butzin, chairman of Common Cause Florida. "We believe they have once again fallen fall short of their sworn duty, and we will continue to urge Judge Lewis to adopt a constitutionally compliant map for the 2014 elections." 

-- Staff Writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report