Florida Supreme Court unseals documents on districts

The Associated Press | The Associated Press | 11/25/2014

TALLAHASSEE – The extent that Republican consultants went to influence Florida’s redrawing of congressional and legislative districts was placed into public view on Tuesday by the Florida Supreme Court.

The high court officially unsealed hundreds of pages of emails and documents, as well as court testimony that had been given behind closed doors by one consultant from Gainesville.

The documents were considered key evidence for why a judge ruled this summer that the GOP-controlled Legislature violated a voter-approved law that congressional districts cannot be drawn to favor incumbents or the member of any political party.

Pat Bainter and his firm Data Targeting have fought for months to keep the records sealed, arguing that disclosing them would violate their First Amendment rights and expose trade secrets. The state Supreme Court unanimously rejected those arguments and instead released them all online.

The emails had been disclosed over the weekend by several media organizations, but the trial transcript and legal briefs filed by lawyers for both sides had remained sealed until the court released them. Media organizations, including The Associated Press, had filed friend of the court briefs asking for the documents to be released.

“The documents and testimony assisted the plaintiffs in clearly establishing the source of the maps and in proving that those maps were relied upon by the Legislature in their ultimate decisions regarding the enacted map,” King said.David King, a lawyer representing the groups that sued over the state’s congressional districts, said the documents “reveal in great detail how they manipulated the public process to achieve their partisan objectives.”

During the trial, Bainter was asked repeatedly about efforts to find people, many of them Republicans from the Gainesville area, to submit maps publicly. King said that the consultants then made sure tha t politicians in Tallahassee knew which maps had really been drawn by the consultants.

Bainter was asked directly during the trial if he had people submit the maps the consultants drew up. He said no, but instead said that members of his firm “knew citizens that would want to participate in the process.”

Voters in 2010 passed the “Fair Districts” amendments. The League of Women Voters of Florida and other groups that sued contended that the congressional map adopted in 2012 violated these new standards. Judge Terry Lewis ruled in July there was enough evidence to show that consultants helped manipulate the process and ruled that two districts were invalid.

Legislators in August adopted a new map that altered seven of the state’s existing 27 districts and shifts nearly 400,000 voters in central and north Florida. Lewis signed off on the new map, but the groups have appealed that decision. The state Supreme Court is scheduled to take up the case next spring.

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