No Special Master for Redistricting - Judge Says That Would Add Steps

Albuquerque Journal (NM) - Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Author: Deborah Baker Journal Staff Writer
SANTA FE — The judge in charge of redistricting has decided not to appoint a special master in the case, saying it would not increase efficiency or curb costs. 

Ret i red St ate Dist r ict Judge James Hall rejected the motion by Gov. Susana Martinez to appoint a demographer to draw a single set of maps that would be the focus of testimony. 

Hall said delegating responsibilities to a special master would insert “additional procedural steps to already complex litigation” and open the door to extensive disputes. 

Hall said he will proceed as scheduled, with the first hearing, on congressional redistricting, beginning Dec. 5. 

Greg Blair, a spokesman for Martinez, said the governor “believes the use of an independent special master would not only have saved taxpayer dollars, but also would have resulted in a far less partisan process.” 

The state Supreme Court appointed Hall to oversee the drawing of new boundaries for members of the U.S. House, the state House and Senate and the Public Regulation Commission. Martinez had vetoed the legislatively approved maps for the Legislature and the PRC; lawmakers never sent her a congressional plan. 

The special master proposal was supported by Republican legislators and other plaintiffs in two of the lawsuits. Democratic lawmakers and Indian tribes, who are plaintiffs in the other lawsuits, objected. 

At least nine lawsuits are consolidated before Hall. 

Martinez said it would be faster and less costly to fight about a single set of redistricting maps, rather than have multiple plans presented. 

But Hall, in an order filed Tuesday, said that approach “would not lead to greater efficiency and, in fact, may well increase the time and expense involved in this ligitation.” 

Finding a “truly neutral” special master would likely be difficult, and the selection of the demographer and how he or she would be instructed to draw the maps would lead to significant disputes, Hall said. 

After the special master made recommendations to the court, the parties would have a right to argue and present evidence and could present their own maps at that point, Hall also said. 

“Ultimately, the inclusion of a special master may simply lead to more potential issues for appeal,” the judge wrote. 

But Hall also said there’s no reason redistricting by the court has to be unduly expensive or time-consuming. 

He said the worry over the potential cost to the taxpayer of attorney fees and expert witnesses expenses is legitimate, “although a certain level of expense to the taxpayer was assured” when the Legislature and the governor failed to agree on plans. 

And he said attorney fees and expert witness costs can be cut — for example, by having parties with similar interests work together, by limiting the number of lawyers who appear in court, and by having state officials order their lawyers to avoid “unnecessary conflicts on extraneous issues.” 

Hall also reminded the parties that he has considerable discretion in determining reasonable fees, and that should provide an incentive to be efficient.