A "special master" appointed to deal with a dispute over documents related to the 2012 redistricting process has ruled that a Republican consultant shouldn't have to give those records to groups challenging the new political maps in court.
Former Supreme Court Justice Major Harding's report, dated Monday, says that Pat Bainter and employees of his Gainesville-based firm, Data Targeting Inc., shouldn't have to produce hundreds of pages of documents shared inside the company and with the Republican Party of Florida, which paid Bainter for work during the redistricting process.
Harding said those ties qualified for an "associational privilege" that would shield the documents from being given to voting-rights groups. Those groups have asked a Leon County judge to toss the maps lawmakers drew in 2012.
"I also find that the requirement to disclose the internal materials collected, discussed, and used in carrying out the role of gathering information from the state and defining campaign strategies for RPOF and other clients, would have a serious impact and 'chilling' effect on communication among and between employees and the clients of Data Targeting," Harding wrote. "It would also impact the economic well-being of Data Targeting, its employees and clients."
Data Targeting had already turned over some documents that were shared with lawmakers and others, but the coalition challenging the maps wanted the additional documents as well. Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis asked Harding to review the records to see if they should be turned over.
Lewis could still overrule Harding.
"We obviously disagree with the findings in Justice Harding's report, and we intend to ask Judge Lewis to take another look at these important issues," said Adam Schachter, an attorney for the coalition, in a written statement.
The redistricting plans, the first under the "Fair Districts" standards added to the Florida Constitution in a 2010 referendum, have been bogged down in litigation almost since they were approved by lawmakers in 2012. The Supreme Court is currently weighing whether lawmakers should be shielded from testifying in court about the process of drawing the maps.