Florida House redistricting lawyers want to grill Democrat map drawers

Mary Ellen Klas | Bradenton Herald | 09/18/2015

Arguing that "neither political party holds a monopoly on gerrymandering,'' lawyers for the Florida House on Thursday asked the Florida Supreme Court to allow them to ask the redistricting challengers questions about the Democrat-leaning firms that drew their proposed congressional map.

"Without apparent shame, Plaintiffs have presented to the trial court alternative maps that were drawn, reviewed, discussed, modified, and approved in a closed process, in complete darkness, by national political operatives,'' the House lawyers wrote in the motion. "The fact that Plaintiffs’ maps, despite their origins, are pending before the trial court for a possible recommendation to this Court should dismay and disturb all Floridians."

The plaintiffs, a group of Democrat-leaning voters known as the Romo plaintiffs, filed a proposed map this week with Leon Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis showing an alternative to the House and Senate maps drawn by the GOP-led Legislature.

Lewis will decide among the maps which best reflects the guidelines as set out by the Supreme Court when it invalidated Florida's congressional map because of "improper partisan intent." The House has submitted one map, the Senate two and the plaintiffs four.

But with an Oct. 17 deadline looming to review and recommend the best map, the court did not allow for discovery, making it impossible for either side to question the other about who drew the map and whether it was drawn to benefit a political party or incumbent.

The House alleges that the the company that drew the Romo plaintiff's map, Strategic Telemetry, drew an alternative map for the Coalition Plaintiffs at the summary-judgment stage and discovery in that process revealed "a trove of emails captured the map-drawers’ overtly partisan communications."

Among the emails, were statements that showed they wanted to revise districts in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties to make them more "Dem friendly." They asked: "“See if there is enough dem population for a district in Daytona/Volusia.” And they noted, “Sarasota has been moving Dem, see what we can carve there.”

The company's mapdrawer, John O’Neill, who drew the map submitted by the plaintiffs, wrote in 2012: “Right now just trying to generally figure out where we can pick up seats,'' the lawyers said. "Strategic Telemetry’s corporate representative testified that O’Neill’s statement reflected an attempt to “pick up” seats for Democrats, and was forced to concede that O’Neill’s effort to “pick up” Democratic seats violated the Constitution."

The court, however, has explicitly said that the burden is on the Legislature to show that their maps are not drawn with partisan intent.

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