August 03, 2014

Slapped for making a 'mockery' of transparency, House and Senate now order redistricting docs retained

After being pummeled by a harshly-worded court ruling that concluded Florida's legislative leaders destroyed documents and allowed political consultants to "make a mockery" of their self-described transparency in the redistricting process, legislative leaders are now taking precautions. 

In an email late Friday to Senate members and staff, Senate President Don Gaetz asked everyone to "keep and do not delete" all redistricting records in light of the pending litigation over congressional districts. In a similar email at the same time, House deputy general counsel Steve Godwin gave the same directions to House members and staff and highlighted the same words. 

The emails came hours after Lewis ordered lawmakers to revise their congressional redistricting map to fix two districts he had previously ordered unconstitutional. He said he was considering calling a special election after Nov. 4 for the affected districts and he called for an Aug. 20 hearing to decide how to go forward.  Download Romo.remedy-order.august-1-2014-1

Gaetz along with House Speaker Will Weatherford must decide whether to appeal the order, defy the court, or call lawmakers into session to revise the maps. He said legislators "have not made a decision how to proceed "but sent out the records retention notice just in case. Lewis in his July 10 ruling found that the "winning is everything" approach to political debate today contributed to the climate that allowed GOP political consultants to conspire "to infuence and manipulate the Legislature into violation of its constitutional duty" under the Fair District amendments.

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August 01, 2014

Reaction to latest redistricting ruling: silence, confusion and joy

Confusion is the primary reaction to the redistricting ruling today as legislators, elections officials and others sort through the order to immediately redraw congressional maps and contemplate what impact it will have on elections this year. 

"It's like jello -- you don't know where it all stands but it certainly has explosive implications for Florida politics,'' said Susan MacManus, a professor of political science at the University of South Florida and a redistricting expert.

Responding to reporters question Friday, Gov. Rick Scott implied that he won't be getting involved in calling legislators back into special session to redraw the map but he sounded ready to put an end to the discussion.

"The Legislature is reviewing what the court decided and the Legislature has the power to make their own decision about calling special session," he said while campaigning Friday in St. Petersburg.

Ron Labasky, general counsel for the state's 67 supervisors of elections, said supervisors are trying to figure out what to do next.

"It's like a car wreck when everyone gets out of their car and wonders what happened and they're not too sure if they all had the same experience,'' he said. 

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, who were ordered by Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis on Friday to produce a revised map in two weeks, reacted with silence. They are expected to comment by Monday -- maybe in the form of an appeal to the First District Court of Appeal and a request for a stay. 

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, continues to oppose any suggestion that her winding, 10-county district be revised. Lewis threw out her district on July 10,  concluding it was drawn in violation of the state's Fair District rules because it was designed to benefit Republicans.

Continue reading "Reaction to latest redistricting ruling: silence, confusion and joy" »

Judge calls for special election and immediate revamp of congressional map

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ruled Friday that the Florida Legislature must immediately revise its flawed congressional map and ordered lawmakers to submit a revised map by Aug. 15 and the secretary of state to propose a special election plan for the affected congressional districts.

Lewis agreed with the Legislature's lawyers and concluded "there is just no way, legally or logistically, to put in place a new map, amend the various deadlines and have elections on November 4th as prescribed by Federal law."

While he acknowledged that there is no easy solution to fixing the map that violates the state's Fair Districts rules, he suggested "it might be possible to push the general election date back to allow for a special election in 2014 for any affected districts." Download Romo.Remedy Order.August 1, 2014 (1)

Lewis ruled on July 10 that the congressional redistricting map drawn by the Republican-led legislature included two districts drawn with illegal partisan intent which makes the entire map unconstitutional. His order on Friday requires the Legislature to modify the two districts, but it is estimated that could affect the lines of as many as 10 districts that touch them.

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July 24, 2014

Court asked to accept new redistricting map, delay primary elections

Florida should delay the primary or adjust its election dates this year in order to fix its unconstitutional congressional map and avoid an invalid election, lawyers for a coalition of voters argued Thursday in circuit court.

But lawyers for the Legislature told Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis that fixing the map before the November elections would "cause horrific uncertainty" for voters and would be an extreme, unnecessary remedy.

Lewis' ruled on July 10 that the state’s congressional redistricting maps are invalid and declared two of the states's 27 districts unconstitutional – those held by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden.

But the Legislature surprised him last week and decided not to appeal the ruling. House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz then urged Lewis to let them revise the map after the November elections, in order to avoid disrupting the fall elections and to comply with federal voting rules that impose a fixed schedule for sending ballots to overseas military.

The coalition of voters groups, led by the League of Women Voters, filed the lawsuit challenging the state's congressional map as violating the Fair Districts rules approved by voters in 2010.

After a 13-day trial, Lewis concluded that the Republican-controlled Legislature allowed “improper partisan intent” to infiltrate the redistricting process and seemingly ignored evidence that partisan political operatives were “making a mockery” out of their attempts to conduct themselves with transparency.

Continue reading "Court asked to accept new redistricting map, delay primary elections" »

July 17, 2014

Judge sets hearing for next Thursday to hear why districts should be revised now

With time running out, the judge who invalidated Florida's congressional redistricting maps ordered a hearing for next Thursday to hear the last-chance argument by the voters groups that the maps should be redrawn before the November elections.

In a 20-minute scheduling hearing on Thursday, lawyers for the Legislature, Florida's secretary of state and the associations of supervisors of elections told Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis that it is practically impossible to draw new districts in time to meet federal and state requirements for the election.

"At this point, absent some very novel, creative plan on your part, we just don't see how there is any possible way you could intervene...and have an election in newly-created districts,'' said Ron Labasky, attorney for the Florida Supervisors of Elections Association.

He said that some voters have already completed their absentee ballots and submitted them for the August primary election.

"I'm not too sure how we back up and let somebody vote again,'' he said.

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July 14, 2014

Saying 'time is of the essence' plaintiffs want remedy in redistricting case

The voters groups who succeeded in getting the state's congressional map thrown out of court last week asked a judge on Monday to expedite a hearing to set a schedule for repairing the state's congressional redistricting map. 

"In light of forthcoming congressional elections, time is of the essence for drawing a
remedial congressional plan and completing the proceedings necessary for completion of this
case,'' wrote the League of Women Voters and the voters who brought the case, in a motion filed with Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis.  Download 2014 07-14 CP's Mot-Expedited Status Hearing (1)

They want Lewis to call a status hearing soon so that they can move forward recommending changes to the legislatively-drawn map that Lewis has ruled is unconstitutional. 

According to redistricting experts, there are three options before the court

• The judge orders the Legislature to redraw the maps,

• The court asks for submissions from the parties and chooses among them, and

• The court retains a special master to draw the maps.

No word yet as to whether the Legislature is going to appeal the case but both parties expect that will happen. Here's the motion filed Monday:  Download Plaintiff's Motion for Status Hearing

July 11, 2014

One thing is certain about redistricting ruling: November uncertainty

The court ruling that invalidated Florida’s congressional districts this week will give voters in November’s elections something they are used to: uncertainty.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis rejected the Legislature’s 2012 congressional map and specifically ordered two of the state’s 27 districts redrawn to comply with the state’s Fair Districts constitutional amendment.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, should see her sprawling district become more compact and follow traditional political boundaries, Lewis ruled. And U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, a Winter Garden Republican, should have his Orlando-based district revamped to eliminate the partisan advantage that came when lawmakers swapped out Hispanic Democrats for white Republicans.

Among the harsh criticism Lewis directed at the Republican-controlled Legislature was that they allowed “improper partisan intent” to infiltrate the redistricting process and seemingly ignored evidence that partisan political operatives were “making a mockery” out of their attempts to conduct themselves with transparency.

Lewis also retained jurisdiction over the case, meaning any remedy will have to be approved by him. How and when that happens is not clear and Lewis did not give any guidance.

Republicans uniformly said Friday that they are reviewing the ruling and won’t comment. Privately, some suggest that the remedy is simple — the Legislature need only adopt a previous version of the congressional map and be done.

But lawyers for the coalition led by the League of Women Voters that brought the legal challenge disagree. More here. 


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).

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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 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 " 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.