Sunday, February 25, 2018
Politics

Appeals court agrees to shield documents in Florida redistricting trial

TALLAHASSEE — In a major blow to challengers of the state's congressional districts, a state appeals court sided with Republican political consultants Thursday in ruling that 538 pages of maps, emails and memos are confidential "trade secrets" that may not be entered as evidence in the ongoing redistricting trial.

The ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal was a setback to the League of Women Voters and seven Florida voters who are suing the state for violating the law that prohibits legislators from protecting political parties and incumbents when redrawing the state's congressional boundaries.

The plaintiffs allege that "legislators and staffers collaborated" with political operative Pat Bainter of Data Targeting and other partisan operatives "to conduct a separate redistricting process that was not only apart from the public process but actually perverted the public process itself."

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis had ordered Bainter to turn over thousands of documents and said that 538 pages could be entered as evidence in the trial. But Bainter's lawyers, who are being paid by the Republican Party of Florida, said the release of the documents would result in irreparable harm.

They appealed Lewis' ruling, claiming Bainter had a First Amendment privilege not to release what he considered proprietary information. The appeals court agreed.

Plaintiffs' attorney Mark Herron said Thursday that the legal team for the voters coalition has not decided whether to appeal the decision to the Florida Supreme Court.

"We are considering and assessing all our options, and it may take us a day or two to decide,'' he said. He added that the plaintiffs had prepared to go to trial with or without the documents.

The three judges who signed the ruling, Joseph Lewis, Simone Marstiller and Scott Makar, were each appointed by Republican governors — Jeb Bush, Charlie Crist and Rick Scott.

The ruling came on the fourth day of the landmark trial in Leon County. Plaintiffs have been trying to show that legislators violated the constitutional redistricting rules by allowing Republican consultants to coordinate mapmaking and "undermine the public redistricting process."

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, who were in charge of the 2012 redistricting efforts, were called this week to testify under oath for the first time, and acknowledged that they met privately to work out their differences and reach a deal on the congressional map. Plaintiffs say the map, which was adopted by lawmakers, favors incumbents and benefits the Republican Party.

Kirk Pepper, a top aide to state Rep. Dean Cannon, who was House speaker during the map-drawing session, testified Tuesday that he provided congressional maps to Republican political consultant Marc Reichelderfer weeks before they were made available to the public.

House Redistricting Committee staff director Alex Kelly testified Thursday that he turned over numerous maps to Pepper, at Pepper's request. Kelly also said Weatherford authorized him to go to a meeting with the political consultants at the Tallahassee office of GrayRobinson, the House's legal counsel, before the start of the redistricting process.

Republican political consultant Rich Heffley, a close Gaetz adviser, is scheduled to testify today. Court documents show Heffley was paid more than $100,000 by the Republican Party to provide redistricting advice and was the liaison between mapmakers at Republican Party headquarters and the legislative staff.

The parties have been fighting for more than a year over whether the emails among legislators, staffers and the political consultants should be kept secret.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas.

Comments
Top Justice official alerted White House 2 weeks ago to ongoing issues in Kushnerís security clearance

Top Justice official alerted White House 2 weeks ago to ongoing issues in Kushnerís security clearance

WASHINGTON ó A top Justice Department official alerted the White House two weeks ago that significant information requiring additional investigation would further delay the security clearance process of senior adviser Jared Kushner, three people fami...
Published: 02/23/18
Former Florida congressmen say gun control measures need to go much further

Former Florida congressmen say gun control measures need to go much further

TAMPA ó A bipartisan pair of former congressmen spoke Friday about gun safety measures that are more drastic than those being considered following the Parkland school shootings, and about hopes for a national youth movement comparable to the 1960s an...
Published: 02/23/18

Gulfport candidates draw stark contrasts

GULFPORT ó One candidate is a plain-spoken, straightforward technology consultant who preaches "conservative fiscal responsibility" and votes Republican in national elections.The other is a self-proclaimed "progressive liberal" who practices law, pro...
Published: 02/23/18
William March: Gun issues playing bigger role now in local races

William March: Gun issues playing bigger role now in local races

In the aftermath of the Broward County high school shooting, gun rights issues have jumped to the forefront of local legislative races.Democratic challengers are calling out incumbents in Tampa legislative seats on their past stances on gun control."...
Published: 02/22/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Mattis expected to back allowing transgender troops to stay in the military

Mattis expected to back allowing transgender troops to stay in the military

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is expected to propose to President Donald Trump that transgender members of the U.S. military be allowed to continue serving despite the presidentís call last summer for a ban on all transgender service, acc...
Published: 02/22/18
Sen. Marco Rubio faces tough audience at riveting CNN forum on gun violence

Sen. Marco Rubio faces tough audience at riveting CNN forum on gun violence

After an emotionally draining day that captured national attention ó the massive rally in Tallahassee and a small, tearful gathering of survivors at the White House ó CNNís Wednesday night town hall on the Parkland shooting could have easily been ove...
Published: 02/22/18
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens indicted on felony invasion of privacy charge

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens indicted on felony invasion of privacy charge

A St. Louis grand jury has indicted Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on a felony invasion of privacy charge related to the Republicanís affair with a woman in 2015. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner announced the indictment Thursday. She launched an ...
Published: 02/22/18
Two weeks after Trump chose him for ambassador, nominee pledged money for a gala at Trumpís club

Two weeks after Trump chose him for ambassador, nominee pledged money for a gala at Trumpís club

Two weeks after President Donald Trump nominated Florida businessman Leandro Rizzuto Jr. to be ambassador to Barbados, Rizzuto pledged thousands of dollars to fund a gala at Trumpís Mar-a-Lago Club, the galaís organizer said.Rizzuto and his wife, Den...
Published: 02/22/18
Mueller files new charges in Manafort, Gates case

Mueller files new charges in Manafort, Gates case

New charges were filed Thursday against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner, ratcheting up the legal pressure on them as they prepare for a trial later this year.A new indictment has long been expected in special cou...
Published: 02/22/18
Romano: Welcome to Florida, a state more afraid of conversation than guns

Romano: Welcome to Florida, a state more afraid of conversation than guns

Gun advocates are absolutely right about this:A ban on assault weapons will not end school shootings.How do we know?Because there was a federal ban on assault weapons for 10 years, and mass killings persisted. Thatís because a ban deals only with fut...
Published: 02/22/18