First of Boundary Trials To Begin - 2 Redistricting Cases This Month, 2 in January

Albuquerque Journal (NM) - Monday, December 5, 2011
Author: Copyright © 2011 Albuquerque Journal By Deborah Baker Journal Staff Writer
All lawyered up and ready to roll. 

The first of four scheduled trials was to get under way today to draw new district boundaries for elected officials. 

At least 30 attorneys are involved in the jumbo court case to redistrict the U.S. House, the state House, the state Senate and the Public Regulation Commission. 

With attorney fees, witness expenses and other costs, the trials — two this month and two in January — will most likely mean a multimillion-dollar tab for taxpayers, although it’s way too early to figure up the bill. 

The last time a redistricting fight ended up in state District Court, 10 years ago, the public shelled out more than $3.6 million for litigation costs — and there were only two trials. 

This year, with prodding from Gov. Susana Martinez and the judge assigned to handle the case, participants are trying to curb costs. 

Fittingly, the trials will be held in a building that was a testament to cost-cutting: the former state Capitol, finished in 1900 for a modest $140,000, with the help of recycled materials and prison labor. It replaced a fancier and more expensive Capitol that mysteriously burned down. 

Now known as the Bataan Memorial Building, it has been extensively renovated — its dome was lopped off to “Santa Fe-ize” it — and it bears little resemblance to the Capitol it once was. 

The high-ceilinged, old Senate chamber will serve as the courtroom when testimony begins today on redrawing New Mexico’s three U.S. House districts. 

Redistricting must be done every 10 years, after the census. Districts must be adjusted to equalize their populations, to comply with the U.S. Constitution’s mandate of “one person, one vote.” 

That job fell to the courts this year after lawmakers and Martinez failed to agree on plans. The GOP governor vetoed three maps — state House and Senate and the PRC — that were passed by the Democratic-run Legislature. And legislators never sent her a plan for the U.S. House. 

It’s a replay of 10 years ago, when GOP Gov. Gary Johnson and the Democratic Legislature butted heads and a judge ended up deciding the district lines for the U.S. House and the state House. 

A slew of lawsuits were filed after this year’s redistricting efforts, then consolidated. Democrats and Republicans, Indian tribes and pueblos, lawmakers and ordinary citizens are in the mix. A last-minute bid by the League of United Latin American Citizens to join the fray may be completed today. 

The defendants are Martinez, Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, Secretary of State Dianna Duran, House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Nambé, and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell. 

Basically, the plaintiffs allege that the current districts are now unconstitutional because of the population growth in the last decade. Where they differ is the maps they propose as solutions. 

Martinez has been hammering away at her lawyers about keeping costs low and dividing work efficiently. 

“The most significant costsaving measure to date was her instruction to reach out to Democratic plaintiffs on a potential compromise map for congressional redistricting,” said her spokesman, Scott Darnell. 

The subsequent agreement between Republicans and one group of Democrats is expected to streamline this week’s congressional trial, narrowing the testimony to at most three plans — the agreed-on map, one proposed by the other group of Democrats, and a LULAC-backed map. 

Attorneys say they’re saving money other ways, too: using fewer expensive expert witnesses; taking turns attending hearings and the pretrial questioning of witnesses; interviewing out-of-state experts by phone or teleconference instead of paying travel costs. 

And some are carpooling, according to the Governor’s Office. 

Retired state District Judge James Hall said in a recent order that the cost to taxpayers is a “legitimate concern” — but he also reminded the governor and the Legislature that the reason for the court expense is their failure to adopt plans. 

Taxpayers will foot the bill for the lawyers representing state officials. Martinez, Sanchez and Duran — all Republicans — each have their own set of attorneys. The Governor’s Office says that’s reasonable because they’re separate parties in the litigation. Two of the governor’s lawyers are on her staff. Her third lawyer, and Sanchez’s and Duran’s lawyers, are under contract with the state’s Risk Management Division for maximum pay of $150 an hour. 

The Legislature is paying better: $260 an hour for two of the lawyers representing Jennings and Lujan, and $235 and $180 an hour for two others. 

Because redistricting involves federal civil rights claims, taxpayers will also have to pick up some attorneys’ and experts’ costs for the parties who filed the lawsuits. 

Hall has reminded lawyers he has “considerable discretion” in those decisions and warned them to be efficient. 

Hall is getting what retired judges who are appointed to handle special cases are paid, $91.85 an hour. 

By the numbers AT LEAST 30 

Number of attorneys involved 

Number of maps that must be created 


Amount spent 10 years ago for court to determine two maps