In historic trial, Florida Legislature accused of breaking its o - FOX 13 News

In historic trial, Florida Legislature accused of breaking its own laws

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TALLAHASSEE (FOX 13) -

In 2010, Florida voters passed amendments saying our lawmakers cannot draw districts to favor incumbents, or members of a political party.

Now, a coalition of groups is suing legislators, claiming they violated those standards by drawing districts that favor Republicans.

The trial, which is being described as “landmark” and “historic,” got underway this week.



VIDEO: In the video clip above, FOX 13 Political Editor Craig Patrick explains how the legislature used Bingo balls to tackle the issue, spent $45,000 a day, and unsurprisingly, got nothing accomplished.



Friday, lawyers for groups who believe Florida legislators broke the law when they drew the congressional maps will ask the state Supreme Court to release documents seen as key evidence.

The announcement Friday came the day after the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled the documents obtained from a Republican consultant are privileged and must remain confidential.

The ruling overturned a decision from Judge Terry Lewis to allow the documents to be used in the trial that's now in its fifth day.

The 2010 “Fair Districts” amendment

Voters in 2010 passed the "Fair Districts" amendment that says districts cannot be drawn in a way to favor incumbents or members of a political party.

A coalition of groups is suing legislators claiming they drew maps for congressional seats that violate those standards.

The Legislature's lawyers say that's false.

The groups suing the Florida Legislature had obtained documents from a Gainesville-based political consulting firm and wanted to use them to show that legislators drew up congressional districts in 2012 in a way that would help Republicans.

But lawyers hired by the Republican Party of Florida to represent Data Targeting and consultant Pat Bainter argued that the documents are trade secrets and should remain confidential.

Judge Terry Lewis disagreed and ruled that they could be used in the redistricting trial that started this week.

But in a one-page ruling, the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned Lewis and said the evidence cannot be used.

The three judges on the panel, all of whom were appointed by Republican governors, said they would explain the decision later.

Groups allege districts were drawn to favor Republicans

Mark Herron, a Tallahassee attorney representing a group of voters suing the Legislature, said it would take a day or two for the groups to "consider and assess all of our options."

The ruling came on the fourth day of the landmark trial that marks the first time new standards adopted by voters in 2010 are being used to challenge how the Legislature drew up new congressional districts.

The trial is also unique because Florida's two legislative leaders were forced to testify this week in court.

The "Fair Districts" constitutional amendments say districts cannot be drawn in a way to favor incumbents or members of a political party.

The groups suing, which include the League of Women Voters, contend that legislators used a "shadow" process to disguise what they were doing.

Evidence introduced so far has shown that one Republican consultant got maps from a top House aide before they were made public.

Also, legislators in charge of the process met with GOP consultants in early 2011 to discuss redistricting. And the final deal on a new congressional map was reached behind closed doors.

Attorneys for Legislature deny wrongdoing

Attorneys for the Legislature have denied any wrongdoing, but if the court finds the current districts unconstitutional, it could force legislators to redraw them.

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz testified this week that they did not communicate with consultants and did not draw up maps to favor Republicans.

Weatherford has noted that four GOP incumbent members of Congress have been defeated since the new maps were passed in 2012, two of them by Democrats.

Much of the trial has centered on the push by the Senate to increase the number of black voters in a sprawling district that stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando but also bends westward into part of Gainesville.

Attorneys challenging the maps in the lawsuit say it was done to put more Democratic voters in the district of U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown in order to help Republicans in adjacent districts.

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