The Florida Supreme Court appears poised to release hundreds of pages of secret documents and testimony involved in a lawsuit challenging congressional districts drawn by the Legislature in 2012.
In an order issued Monday, justices told lawyers representing Republican political consultant Pat Bainter and his consulting firm, Data Targeting, Inc., to explain by noon Tuesday why the court shouldn’t release the records three hours later.
The court noted a decision by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to turn down a request to keep the documents sealed after Dec. 1 — when the state justices initially scheduled a release. Also, it cited the leak of the documents to some media outlets over the weekend.
In addition to those records, though, the court would release Bainter’s previously closed testimony in the redistricting case before Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, who sparked a special legislative session this summer when he struck down two congressional districts for violating a constitutional ban on political gerrymandering.
“Now the public will be able to fully understand all elements of the shadow process that was designed to deceive the public, circumvent the will of the people and make a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting,” said David King, an attorney for the groups challenging the map.
Though Lewis found two districts violated the constitution, voting-rights groups appealed to the Supreme Court. They say Lewis didn’t go far enough to completely rid the map of violations of the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” amendments, which were approved by the voters in 2010.
While the Supreme Court has ordered the release of the documents and testimony, it has not ruled on the challenge to Lewis’ decision.
Many of the most salacious details about the emails and documents, which Bainter fought to keep private for months, were divulged after the Scripps-Tribune Capital Bureau in Tallahassee published all 538 pages online. They detail the activities of political consultants who Lewis found engaged in a secretive effort to submit maps to the Legislature under the names of other people, using a public system.
In one email with the subject line “Start drawing a Congressional map,” Bainter wrote to two employees: “QUICK! We have to have in by Monday!”
The emails make it clear that the consultants were taking into account some of the very factors, like lawmakers’ residences, that the constitutional amendments were meant to remove from the redistricting process. And while many of the emails deal with the congressional map, a great deal of the consultants’ work was focused on the Senate plan, which is subject to a legal challenge that has not been heard.
“I have adjusted SD38 to include the Flores residence within the district,” wrote Michael Sheehan, an employee at Data Targeting, in an email apparently referring to Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. “I was right next to boarder (sic) so very little had to be changed.”
At another time, employee Matt Mitchell sent an email with notes such as “MAKE SURE Latvala is within 16,” an apparent effort to place Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, in a specific district. A similar note is used about keeping then-Sen. Jim Norman in another district.
But the effort did not always appear to be a well-oiled machine.
“Guys, did we really submit a map that show (sic) on the map where all the incumbents live???” Bainter wrote at one point.