Tension mounts over which lawyers get access to Florida Senate redistricting maps

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald

By Mary Ellen Klas

Published October 13, 2015


TALLAHASSEE — Tensions mounted Wednesday more than a week before the special session on Senate redistricting is set to begin as House and Senate leaders acknowledged that staff had begun drafting maps using guidelines agreed to exclusively by the leaders and their lawyers, but the lawyer hired to represent Senate Democrats would not be allowed to take part in the process.

Senate Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano acknowledged that the drawing of Senate districts is well underway by House and Senate staff for the three-week special session that begins Oct. 19. They are working in a sequestered space in the Senate redistricting suite and are being advised by the lawyers hired by the GOP-led Senate and House but, he said, the Senate Democrats will not have a separate lawyer at the table.

Senate Democrat Leader Arthenia Joyner told the Herald/Times she has hired Tallahassee attorney Mark Herron to represent Senate Democrats in the redistricting process, using funds from the Florida Democratic Party, after Senate President Andy Gardiner twice rejected her request to allow the Democratic caucus to have its own lawyer advise them during the drawing of the Senate redistricting map.

“I had no choice,” Joyner said. “There is an inherent conflict because they drew the maps to favor Republicans. These same lawyers defended the maps and then admitted they violated the Constitution. Now, these lawyers are giving advice ... Either fire them and get new lawyers, or hire us our own lawyers.”

She said the Senate’s current lawyers, former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero and Jason Zakia, were the Senate’s lead lawyers defending the existing maps in the protracted legal battle over the congressional and Senate redistricting maps first adopted by lawmakers in 2012. Cantero’s signature was on the stipulated settlement agreement admitting that the Senate map violated the state constitution’s Fair Districts standards.

In a Sept. 25 letter to Gardiner, Joyner asked him to reconsider his decision not to finance separate counsel for the minority party, noting that Cantero and Zakia have “been at the forefront of the unconstitutional maps — both Congressional and Senate — since the redrafting process began” and “they cannot serve two masters.”

The letter came after an exchange between Galvano and House Redistricting Chairman Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, in which they each agreed to issue a “joint memo” that would outline “the methodologies and principles that guide the drawing of each map.”

Herron said Wednesday he had been retained but was surprised to learn that the drafting of the new maps had begun and was still awaiting word of the joint memo detailing the ground rules each side would follow.

“It’s news to me it’s underway,” he told the Herald/Times. “I haven’t seen the principles.”

Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said the guidelines “were sent from House and Senate attorneys to House and Senate redistricting staff. Senators were not included and were not privy to the substance of the document.”

She did not make a copy of the guidelines available but instead said it would be made available when the maps are made public before the start of the special session.

Betta also disagreed with Joyner’s characterization that Cantero and Zakia’s firm, White and Case, had advised the Senate when it drew the maps it later concluded were unconstitutional.

According to the contract with the firm, White and Case was hired in March 2012 after the court had rejected the Senate map and before the Senate had redrafted its current map. With White and Case as its counsel in July, the Senate decided to settle the lawsuit against its redistricting map, acknowledging that the map violated the Constitution.

Joyner noted that Cantero has been the lead counsel for the Senate and was in the deposition when former Senate redistricting staff director John Guthrie was deposed by challengers over the Senate map, a day after the Senate agreed to settle the case. As the Herald/Times first reported, Guthrie testified under oath that former Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, intentionally met individually with senators so they could “share their reactions” to draft Senate maps and avoid the public meeting requirements of Senate rules.

Galvano, R-Bradenton, said he agreed with Gardiner’s decision not to retain a separate lawyer for Democrats because Cantero and Zakia work for all 40-members of the Senate, not just the 26 Republicans.

“At this point they’re Senate lawyers, and it’s all the Senate,” Galvano said. “Both the maps that have passed through this process have been bipartisan so there hasn’t been a bright-line rule between Republicans and Democrats on what maps were passed and have gotten into the litigation process.

He said that if Joyner asks to have Herron sit in on the map drawing process he will not be allowed.

“At this point, her lawyer is not the Senate lawyer or the House lawyer, and the procedure that has been established was: House and Senate staff, House and Senate lawyers, no members,” Galvano said. “So her counsel would be deemed independent counsel, not the chamber counsel, so that’s how I think it would be viewed.”

Galvano said he expects staff to complete three or four draft “base maps” that can then be modified by each chamber and the map drawing process is being documented and recorded when it is taking place in the Senate. House leaders have not agreed to adhere to those guidelines for map drawing that takes place in the House.