Legislature seeks delay in Senate redistricting trial

Matt Dixon | Politico | 07/17/2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Attorneys for the Legislature plan to ask a Tallahassee judge to delay a legal challenge to the state Senate maps, in part because lawmakers are currently redrawing congressional maps that were ruled unconstitutional last week.

Because of that ruling by the Florida Supreme Court, lawmakers will hold a special session to redraw the state’s congressional maps. In their ruling last week, the justices ruled that eight districts were drawn to favor Republicans, which violated 2010 anti-gerrymandering amendments.

That special legislative session, coupled with the fact that up to 30 depositions have yet to be recorded, will not allow attorneys for the Legislature to be prepared for trial on September 25, they told Judge George Reynolds.

“There are depositions of legislators, one after another, at the same time these legislators will likely be in special session,” George Meroes, an attorney representing the House, said Friday during a nearly three-hour case management hearing.

While legislative attorneys make the case that the Senate legal challenge should be slowed, they have also cancelled a handful of depositions, including one with Florida Democratic Party executive director Scott Arceneaux and Ellen Frieden, who led the effort to get the anti-gerrymandering amendments on the ballot.

Among lawmakers scheduled to be deposed are Senate President Andy Gardiner of Orlando, and state Sens. David Simmons of Altamonte Springs, Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who led the Senate’s redistricting effort.

A handful of senators filed objections to subpoenas they received requesting documents, but later said they had nothing to turn over.

“We got not much from our subpoenas to the legislators,” said David King, an attorney representing a group of plaintiffs.

King's firm also litigated the nearly three-year congressional legal challenge for plaintiffs that included the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause. Those same groups filed the state Senate lawsuit.

The plaintiffs argue that legislative attorneys have plenty of time to prepare, because the Senate lawsuit involves many of the same people and issues as the congressional trial.

“We think we know the roadmap through this …the evidence is there to show the Senate map was just as flawed, just as tainted as the congressional map,” King said.

King said they have roughly nine maps that they believe were drawn by known political consultants and later submitted into the formal process under someone else’s name—the same strategy that was uncovered during the congressional trial.

Many of those high-profile Republican consultants are involved in both legal challenges, including Rich Heffley, Pat Bainter, and Marc Reichelderfer.

Nearly 1,295 documents from Data Targeting, the firm Bainter founded, will be released next Tuesday, but kept confidential until they are used in trial. The firm had to release more than 500 documents during the congressional hearing, but a judge ruled the remaining 1,295 were protected.

In its opinion in the congressional case, justices on the Florida Supreme Court noted the importance of those emails in proving consultant involvement, because the Legislature had destroyed many of its own emails tied to the redistricting process.

“It’s not easy to prove a conspiracy, no one wants to confess,” King said. “So you have to do it through bits and pieces, but we did that.”

Both Heffley and Reichelderfer are fighting the release of up to 30 of those emails, which mention their names and they say are privileged. Attorneys for the consultants, who are not direct parties to the case, argued that the private documents are constitutionally protected and that their release is a broad overreach.

“We are treading very heavily on First Amendment rights,” said Kent Safriet, who represents a handful of non-parties, including Data Targeting.

The largely procedural hearing got heated at times after attorneys for the plaintiffs continued to say that some consultants gave false testimony during the congressional trial. At one point, Safriet stood up and loudly called those accusations “egregious.”


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