Editorial: Open the records, it's the law

Editorial Board | Ocala Star Banner | 07/28/2014

A Leon County judge found that Republican lawmakers and consultants “made a mockery” out of a legislative redistricting process that was supposed to be open and transparent — as dictated by a constitutional amendment approved by voters.

Yet even though Judge Terry Lewis struck down two congressional districts with his decision this month, the public is still being kept in the dark about the process in which those districts were drawn. For a state that prides itself on its open government laws, this is inexplicable and smacks of dirty politics.

The public and media were barred from the courtroom during the presentation of a key piece of evidence, which remains under seal: hundreds of pages of documents from GOP consultant Pat Bainter of the Gainesville firm Data Targeting.

Now the First Amendment Foundation and a coalition of news organizations, including the Halifax Media Group, owner of the Star-Banner, are pressing for the records to be released. The Florida Supreme Court should do so to allow the public to better understand Lewis’ ruling and to bring the transparency to the process the law demands.

The judge wrote that the documents were “very helpful” to him in reaching the decision. The documents “evidenced a conspiracy to influence and manipulate the Legislature” into violating the state constitution, Lewis wrote.

He noted that the consultants described their map drawing as just “a hobby,” but the documents laid bear “not only the fact that some of these consultants were submitting maps to the Legislature, but to show how extensive and organized that effort was, and what lengths they went in order to conceal what they were doing.”

Lewis lifted the veil from the redistricting process with his ruling. Now it is up to the Florida Supreme Court to pull it off completely by releasing the records that helped lead to the decision.

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