Ruling sought on GOP redistricting evidence | Plaintiffs want review of whether secrecy violated court orders

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)-August 25, 2012

Madison - The plaintiffs in a redistricting case against GOP lawmakers want federal judges to order a review of whether Republicans' lawyers hid key evidence.

        The filing in federal court in Milwaukee comes after recently released records showed that some documents going to the heart of the lawsuit over redrawn legislative maps were not turned over to the two plaintiff groups, despite several court orders to do so.

        Before this latest revelation, a panel of federal judges fined attorneys for the GOP lawmakers about $17,500 for filing frivolous motions to block the release of records. Now, attorneys for immigrants rights group Voces de la Frontera and a group of Democrats are asking for an outside expert to review the other side's computers to ensure that nothing more has been held back.

        "The Legislature's counsel has promised an investigation of this latest round of discovery breaches, but that is too little, too late," the filing said.

        Spokesmen for the state Department of Justice, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) and Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and the Republicans' outside law firm, Michael Best & Friedrich, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

        The plaintiffs won one claim in their lawsuit when the federal panel found in March that redistricting maps drawn by GOP lawmakers last year violated the rights of Latinos in two Assembly districts on Milwaukee's south side, leading to those two districts being redrawn. The judges also criticized Republican lawmakers for unnecessary secrecy in drawing the maps.

        The state paid Voces $185,500 because the state lost the case, and is in negotiations with the other group over paying its legal fees. All told, taxpayers have paid $1.6 million so far to draw the maps and contend with litigation. Every 10 years, states must draw new maps of legislative and congressional districts to account for population changes recorded by the U.S. census. Republicans controlled all of state government last year and drew maps that greatly benefited them.

        Through a contract with Michael Best, taxpayers paid $431,000 to that firm and others for work on the maps. Republicans and Michael Best did not give Democrats access to the attorneys or the legal file. In recent weeks, Democrats took over the state Senate after winning a seat in the June 5 recall election. Senate Majority Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) demanded and received the case file from Michael Best, and in that file lawyers for the plaintiffs discovered emails about the Latino districts. Those emails, which were not turned over despite the court orders, included concerns about the issues on which the plaintiffs later won.