News from Tallahassee for 11/28/14

Redistricting Records Likely to be Released Tuesday posted on 11/25/14

by BRANDON LARRABEE | News Service of Florida

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.

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A Good Time To Be A Corrupt Politician posted on 11/25/14

by buddy nevins | Broward Beat

Lighthouse Point Commissioner Earl Maucker had a warning for the news media this week:

Since no reporter covers his city, the commissioners could be stealing it blind nobody would notice.

Buffeted by the winds of change, the Old Media has cut its coverage back to the point where Lighthouse Point is not unique. Broward’s cities have been particularly hard hit by the lack of coverage.

The problem is there is nobody who has replaced the Sun-Sentinel and other Old Media outlets.

Speaking to the Fort Lauderdale Forum’s session on the state of journalism today, Maucker commented from a unique perspective. He is an office holder and the former editor of the Sun-Sentinel.

Another speaker at the breakfast meeting was another ex-editor of the Sun-Sentinel – Gene Cryer.

Maucker and Cryer were my bosses.

Crier noted that when he ran the paper from 1979-1994, every city in Broward and South Palm Beach Counties was covered. He pointed out that the deteriotating economics of the newspaper business today prevented that kind of coverage.

Crier said the paper had roughly 370 journalists two decades ago. Current Sun-Sentinel Editor Howard Saltz told the Forum that the paper had half that number today.

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Emails reveal GOP consultant roles in map drawing posted on 11/24/14

by GARY FINEOUT | AP

FL redistricting mapTALLAHASSEE, FLA The role played by Republican consultants and political operatives in drawing up new legislative and congressional districts have been spelled out in hundreds of pages of emails that have been revealed.

The documents were supposed to be unsealed on Dec. 1 by the Florida Supreme Court, but they were obtained by media organizations, including The Associated Press, on Sunday. The contents of the documents were first published by the Scripps-Tribune Capital Bureau.

A judge this summer ruled the GOP-controlled Legislature violated a voter-approved law that congressional districts cannot be drawn to favor incumbents or the member of any political party.

Judge Terry Lewis cited the documents, which were still under seal at the time, as one reason for his ruling. It was during that trial that legislative leaders maintained that outside consultants played no role in drawing districts that eventually were adopted by legislators.

But the documents spell out how Pat Bainter and his Gainesville-based firm Data Targeting as well as other consultants worked on maps to help incumbents, or to make sure minorities were in certain districts. For example, one email called for drawing up a district to help State Sen. John Thrasher since "he actually lives in Clay County." Thrasher, who recently resigned from the Senate to become Florida State University president, had a district that did not include Clay County.

The emails show the lengths that the consultants undertook to make sure that their plans would not show up in any public records.

"Just to ease your minds, I have tried to do most of the asking over the phone, so their (sic) is no e-mail trail if it gets forwarded," wrote consultant Jessica Corbett to Data Targeting employees adding later "I have stressed discretion to all."

The emails also outline a strategy to recruit people to submit maps publicly that were identical to the ones they were drawing up.

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US Supreme Court asked to block document release posted on 11/21/14

by GARY FINEOUT | AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Attorneys for a Republican political consultant have turned to the U.S. Supreme Court in their effort to block the release of emails and documents from Florida's redistricting process.

Lawyers for Pat Bainter and his Gainesville-based firm Data Targeting filed an emergency petition on Thursday to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas asking that the documents remain sealed until at least February.

The documents were cited by a circuit judge as a reason why he ruled this summer the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature violated a state law that says congressional districts cannot be drawn to favor any political party or incumbent. State legislators were forced to hold a special session in August to redraw the districts although the changes won't take effect until the 2016 elections.

But the emails and documents have remained sealed as lawyers paid by the Republican Party of Florida have asserted that disclosing them would violate First Amendment rights and trade secrets.

The state Supreme Court earlier this month ruled that the documents should be released to the public and chastised the consultants for not raising First Amendment questions until six months after the documents were first requested.

Justices on Thursday reaffirmed that decision, although they said they would agree to keep the 538 pages of documents sealed until Dec. 1 in order for an appeal to be filed.

Justice Barbara Pariente said that time had come to release the information.

"This court has unanimously concluded that the documents and testimony must be unsealed, and the public's right to view these materials that the trial court relied on in rendering its final judgment has been delayed long enough," Pariente said in a concurring opinion.

However, in their petition to Thomas asking for an emergency stay, Bainter's lawyers contended they would be harmed if that happened.

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Florida Gov. to scale back inaugural events posted on 11/20/14

by AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida Gov. Rick Scott isn't going to hold an inaugural ball before he's sworn into a second term in office. There won't be a parade either.

Scott and the Republican Party of Florida announced Wednesday that inauguration festivities would be scaled back. Scott's ceremony is scheduled for Jan. 6.

The GOP incumbent plans to hold a "Jobs Jamboree" that will feature informal barbecues hosted by businesses in Miami, Fort Myers, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville and Pensacola. These will start in December.

Scott said in a statement he wants to host events across the state to highlight "our economic growth."

Scott will participate in an inaugural prayer breakfast and he will hold a small reception at the governor's mansion. First lady Ann Scott will also honor military families as well.

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