Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida lawmakers can't be forced to testify in election lawsuit, judge rules

TALLAHASSEE — A federal judge ruled Friday that four state legislators and two staffers cannot be forced to testify in a case that challenges changes to Florida election laws.

After more than 90 minutes of arguments, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle rejected a request by the League of Women Voters of Florida and the National Council of La Raza, who were supported by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Hinkle said the lawmakers and staffs are protected by a long-standing common-law privilege dating back centuries, as well as later court decisions that said such questioning would be an unwarranted intrusion of the legislative branch.

"People recognize, without even thinking about it, that there is this privilege," Hinkle said. "The balance here favors the legislators."

The lawmakers are Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, and Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, the sponsors of the election bill (HB 1355) that passed in 2011, and Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, and Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, who voted against it.

The two voter advocacy groups say the Republican-backed changes are part of a strategy to make it harder for some people to vote.

They have entered a case now before a panel of three federal judges in Washington, who must approve controversial changes to the state law before they take effect in five counties: Hillsborough, Monroe, Collier, Hardee and Hendry. The process is known as preclearance.

The changes involve fewer days of early voting, new registration and reporting demands on third-party voter registration groups and an expansion of use of provisional ballots.

Their attorney, Daniel O'Connor, said the reasons behind the changes are still not entirely clear, and that lawmakers should be forced to explain why they made them.

Justice Department attorney Elise Shore said her agency routinely interviews state lawmakers in preclearance cases. "They are highly relevant to the case," Shore told the judge.

Hinkle agreed their testimony would be relevant, but he was unmoved. "The suggestion that there is no legislative privilege (against testifying) just does not stack up," Hinkle said.

Florida lawmakers can't be forced to testify in election lawsuit, judge rules 02/03/12 [Last modified: Friday, February 3, 2012 7:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Proino Breakfast Club owner charged with not paying state taxes

    Crime

    LARGO — Just before noon on a recent Sunday at Proino Breakfast Club, the dining room was bustling as owner George Soulellis chatted with a customer.

    Proino Breakfast Club at 201 West Bay Drive in Largo. The owner was arrested last month on a theft of state funds charge, according to court records. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
  2. No compatibility in sight for E-ZPass and Florida toll system

    Roads

    When is the Florida DOT going to accept E-ZPass on its toll roads? Orlando's Central Expressway accepts it.

    Catherine Needham

    Lorrie Lykins
  3. Navy expected to relieve admiral in charge of 7th Fleet in response to deadly disasters at sea

    Nation

    The Navy will relieve the senior admiral in charge of the service's 7th Fleet based in Japan in response to four embarrassing accidents this year, two of which killed sailors at sea, two U.S. officials said.

    Tugboats assist the guided-missile destroyer John S. McCain on its way to Changi Naval Base in Singapore on Monday. [U.S. Navy]
  4. Trump chides media over Charlottesville

    National

    President Donald Trump is blaming the media for the widespread condemnation of his response to a Charlottesville, Va., protest organized by white supremacists that led to the killing of a counter-protester.

    Trump met service members before the rally.
  5. Jones: Koetter-Winston exchange highlights latest 'Hard Knocks'

    Bucs

    There are certain things that make HBO's Hard Knocks must-see television.

    Jameis Winston, left, has an exchange with Dirk Koetter that highlights Hard Knocks.