Senate president nixes dissatisfied Democrats bid for lawyers

Steve Bousquet | Tampa Bay Times | 09/28/2015

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, has rejected a request by Senate Democrats for outside lawyers to represent the minority party in the upcoming remapping of Senate districts that will require Supreme Court approval.

Disappointed by what they call Gardiner's "deeply problematic" decision, Democrats are urging him to change his mind before the upcoming three-week special session set to begin Oct. 19.

"I do not believe the interest of the Senate would be served by granting a request to retain additional legal counsel to represent a group of dissatisfied senators in redistricting litigation, regardless of the partisan affiliation of those senators," Gardiner wrote in a letter to Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa. "I use the term 'dissatisfied senators' intentionally, because every redistricting proposal passed this decade has passed this body with bipartisan support."

Senate rules allow the president to hire outside counsel if "the interests of the Senate would not otherwise be adequately represented," but Gardiner said that's not the case with redistricting. He said Senate lawyers "advise and guide the work product that a majority of senators" will approve — regardless of party affiliation.

Joyner fired back Friday with a second letter to Gardiner in which she renewed her party's request for separate legal support, saying her party questioned the impartiality of a Senate legal team that is led by a former Florida Supreme Court justice, Raoul Cantero and two associates at the White & Case law firm in Miami, Jason Zakia and Jesse Green.

Joyner reminded Gardiner of "your admission" in court documents that the current Senate map is unconstitutional because it was drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent in violation of the two "fair districts" amendments to Florida's Constitution that voters approved in 2010.

"I have no doubt that they (Senate lawyers) served the majority well. It is their ability to fairly serve the 14 members of the minority party and the millions of constituents we represent which I see as deeply problematic," Joyner wrote.

Gardiner's spokeswoman, Katherine Betta, said Monday that the attorneys did not advise the Senate on the enacted congressional map that's currently at issue in circuit court, "nor did they play an active role in the development of the enacted Senate map. The court has not declared unconstitutional any map developed during the time Justice Cantero and Mr. Zakia have been the Senate’s primary legal counsel for redistricting."

Gardiner has allowed individual Republican senators to hire legal representation at taxpayer expense. He told Joyner he did so because those senators faced "specific discovery requests" that targeted their official duties.

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