Justices rule consultant's documents can be used at trial — behind closed doors

John Kennedy | Palm Beach Post | 05/27/2014

A divided Florida Supreme Court agreed Tuesday that hundreds of pages of emails, maps and other documents from the consulting firm Data Targeting, Inc., should be allowed as evidence in a congressional redistricting trial now in its second week.

The court’s 5-2 ruling overturns an earlier order by the 1st District Court of Appeal which said the documents should be off limits at the trial. The high court concluded that “irreparable harm…might occur if the petitioners are prevented from using the challenged documents.”

Justices, however, also sided with trial Judge Terry Lewis, in allowing that the documents could only be reviewed behind closed doors in court. The Florida Press Association and several news organizations have said they would consider suing if those conditions were set.

Gainesville-based Data Targeting and its principal, Pat Bainter, wanted the documents shielded from the trial, saying they contain trade secrets. Release of the material could hurt the business, Bainter maintains.

Testimony in the trial, however, has indicated that Republican operatives were closely involved in preparing several proposed congressional maps.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause and a handful of Democratic voters are looking to overturn the 27 congressional district boundaries drawn by the Republican-led Legislature before the 2012 elections, saying they were crafted to assure that the GOP would continue to hold an overwhelming majority of Florida’s congressional seats.

The state constitution prohibits district lines from being drawn deliberately to help or hurt incumbents or a political party.

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