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Lawmakers don't have to testify, judge rules

A federal judge ruled Friday that four state legislators and two staff members cannot be compelled to give sworn testimony in a a major federal election law case.

The League of Women Voters of Florida and the National Council of La Raza had sought to take the six depositions as part of a broader legal strategy to block implementation of several controversial changes to election laws.

After two hours of legal arguments, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle rendered a quick decision -- that legislators have long had a common-law privilege that shields them from being forced to testify about why they make decisions.

"People recognize without even thinking about it that there is this privilege," Hinkle said. "The balance here favors the legislators and the members of their staffs."

The lawmakers are Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland; Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami; Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala; and Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland. All but Dockery voted for the bill (HB 1355) in the 2011 session.

The staff members are Jonathan Fox in the Senate and Heather Williamson in the House.

Steve Bousquet, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau