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Senate Democrats request separate legal team in redistricting

Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, issued a formal request Wednesday for separate lawyers for the Democratic minority in the ongoing redistricting battle. In a letter to Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, Joyner said Democrats are "increasingly concerned with the ability of the Senate's legal counsel to render impartial advice and guidance."

She noted that the lawyers guiding the Senate on a Supreme Court-ordered remapping of congressional districts, George Meros and former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero III, also defended the Senate Republican majority during a series of legal challenges to the map. Her letter emphasized that the need for a separate Democratic legal team will become more urgent in October when the Senate redraws a map of Senate districts that GOP leaders have acknowledged was unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

"It's difficult to serve two masters with different goals," Joyner wrote. "Such dual roles are troubling to Democratic members as they seek equal and impartial advice and representation, particularly as the Senate maps begin to take shape."

Eight of the 14 Senate Democrats voted no Wednesday on a Senate congressional map that the House is now considering. Democrats tried without success to amend the Senate map to address concerns in Tallahassee and all three counties in South Florida. Their amendments were rejected on voice votes. Two Broward Democrats voted for the Senate map, Sens. Jeremy Ring and Eleanor Sobel, and the other four were absent.

Taxpayers are on the hook for more than $8 million in legal fees in the three-year legal fight over Florida's redrawn districts. "It is not my intention to add a single dime to the reapportionment tab," Joyner told Gardiner, "but this court decision wasa not of our doing, and the current attorneys were never retained with our input."

Joyner cited several prior cases in which the Senate minority was provided with separate taxpayer-funded legal representation, including during the 2000 presidential recount. She made her request a day after Democratic Sen. Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens asked Gardiner to direct Senate staff mapmakers to begin work now on draft maps of new Senate districts for the three-week special session beginning Oct. 19. Gardiner promptly denied the request.

Gardiner's spokeswoman, Katherine Betta, said he was reviewing Joyner's request and had no immediate comment.