In 5-2 ruling, Florida Supreme Court says secret redistricting documents must be disclosed

Mary Ellen Klas | Tampa Bay Times | 05/27/2014

TALLAHASSEE — In a 5-2 ruling, the Florida Supreme Court late Tuesday reversed the appeals court in the ongoing redistricting trial, upholding the trial judge's decision that 538 pages of redistricting emails, maps and planning documents of GOP political operative Pat Bainter must be made public but with one caveat — that they be released in a closed courtroom.

"As specifically requested in the emergency petition, the circuit court is not precluded from admitting the documents into evidence, subject to a proper showing of relevancy, but shall maintain the confidentiality of the documents by permitting any disclosure or use only under seal of the court and in a courtroom closed to the public,'' the court ruled in a 16-page ruling that comes even before the DCA issued its ruling in writing. The appellate court ruling has been expected since Thursday.

"This litigation is unique because it impacts the statewide operation of government and the validity of Florida's current system of government through the alleged unconstitutionality of the 2012 apportionment plan,'' the majority wrote in the per curiam opinion. It was signed by Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince, Jorge Labarga and James E.C. Perry.

Justice R. Fred Lewis concurred with an opinion. Justices Ricky Polston and Charles Canady dissented with an opinion.

The court noted that with the "statewide importance" of the litigation and the "lack of Florida precedent" regarding the privilege the political operatives were seeking, the appellate court would have certified a question to the high court when it releases its expected opinion.

"In order to maintain the status quo during the ongoing trial, preserve this Court's ability to completely exercise the eventual jurisdiction it is likely to have to review the First District's decision, and prevent any irreparable harm that might occur if the Petitioners are prevented from using the challenged documents, we conclude that we must grant the petition and stay the enforcement of the First District's reversal of the circuit court, pending the completion of the trial,'' the court concluded.

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