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Filings Suggest Redistricting Records Were Trashed

December 18, 2013 - 6:00pm

Groups challenging the state's new congressional districts are asking for documents and testimony explaining why the Legislature might have destroyed records that could be relevant to the case.

In a series of filings this week, the League of Women Voters of Florida and its allies in the lawsuit demanded records about decisions by the House and the Senate to get rid of documents related to redistricting. The coalition of map opponents argues that the new districts violate the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts standards approved by voters in 2010.

The coalition also notified the House and the Senate that it wants to depose someone chosen by lawmakers who can talk about the issue.

Those demands come days after the Legislature suggested in a new court filing that some records related to redistricting might have been thrown away before the lawsuit was filed. According to attorneys representing the House and Senate in the case, officials would have gotten rid of the documents under legislative rules governing which records should be preserved.

"In strict compliance with these written record-retention policies, legislative records, including records related to congressional redistricting, were sometimes, and appropriately, discarded," lawyers for the Legislature wrote. "The Legislative Parties are without knowledge of the facts and circumstances of particular communications."

That statement was part of a filing Dec. 9 that revised an earlier answer the Legislature had given to the question of whether any documents might have been destroyed. The second filing was far longer than the first answer.

"The Legislative Parties do not contend that the communications described in (questions asked by the coalition) were deleted, destroyed, lost, misappropriated, or otherwise became unavailable for production," according to the first answer, written in October. "The Legislative Parties further note that, during the legislative redistricting process, the Legislative Parties maintained and disposed of legislative records in accordance with record-retention policies embodied in the rules of the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate."

Legislative lawyers argued in the second filing that lawmakers were under no obligation to keep some redistricting records before the maps were approved because the coalition didn't ask the Legislature to keep them, the documents weren't subject to a public-records request and the groups opposed to the districts hadn't announced yet that they might sue.

Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, criticized lawmakers for getting rid of the documents.

"After all the public comments by legislators expressing their belief that litigation was inevitable, the admission that any redistricting records were destroyed should have Florida voters up in arms," Macnab said in a statement issued late Wednesday. "Today's disclosure is just another example of those in charge abusing their power and then hiding behind the lame excuse that they didn't know what they were doing."

But in a blistering statement aimed at the coalition, House Speaker Will Weatherford denied that his chamber did anything wrong.

"Any accusation that the Florida House of Representative thwarted the law and destroyed documents is completely false," said Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who chaired the House committee that drew the lines in 2012. "We not only complied with the letter and the spirit of the public record laws and longstanding House rules, but also went above and beyond those standards when it came to redistricting."

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