Judge rules Florida Legislature broke laws on maps - KAUZ-TV: Newschannel 6 Now | Wichita Falls, TX

Judge rules Florida Legislature broke laws on maps

Posted: Updated:
  • NationalMore>>

  • Slow North Dakota city fire alert raises concern

    Slow North Dakota city fire alert raises concern

    Thursday, July 24 2014 8:23 AM EDT2014-07-24 12:23:59 GMT
    A more efficient system must be established to alert residents of danger in North Dakota's booming oil patch, an emergency manager and residents said, after authorities failed to alert the public for more than...
    A more efficient system must be established to alert residents of danger in North Dakota's booming oil patch, an emergency manager and residents said, after authorities failed to alert the public for more than six...
  • Suspected Nazi guard's death a blow to prosecutors

    Suspected Nazi guard's death a blow to prosecutors

    Thursday, July 24 2014 7:53 AM EDT2014-07-24 11:53:04 GMT
    German efforts to prosecute aging war criminals suffered a setback this week with the death of a retired Philadelphia toolmaker who had long been in the crosshairs of Nazi hunters.
    German efforts to prosecute aging war criminals suffered a setback this week with the death of a retired Philadelphia toolmaker who had long been in the crosshairs of Nazi hunters.
  • Family: Teen pilot who crashed in ocean knew risks

    Family: Teen pilot who crashed in ocean knew risks

    Thursday, July 24 2014 7:52 AM EDT2014-07-24 11:52:23 GMT
    The family of an Indiana teenager who crashed in the Pacific Ocean during an around-the-world flight says he knew the risks and had prepared for them.
    Haris Suleman knew that flying around the world carried risks. But like adventurers before him, the 17-year-old pilot from Indiana also believed dreams aren't achieved without taking chances.
By GARY FINEOUT
Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - The Florida Legislature illegally drew the state's congressional districts to primarily benefit the Republican Party, a judge has ruled, and has ordered them redrawn.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said in a 41-page ruling Thursday that legislators relied on GOP political operatives who worked in secret to craft the final political maps adopted in 2012. In doing so Lewis rejected arguments from top legislative leaders that they had done nothing wrong during the process.

The ruling is not expected to disrupt this year's elections because the Legislature is expected to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. But ultimately the changes could affect the political careers of Florida's congressional delegation, which is currently dominated by Republicans.

The landmark decision comes in the first serious test of the "Fair Districts" amendments adopted by the state's voters in 2010. Those standards said legislators could no longer draw up districts to favor incumbents or a political party, a practice known as "gerrymandering."

"It's a pretty historic ruling," said David King, one of the attorneys who represented the coalition of groups that sued the Legislature. "It just doesn't work to say you are open and transparent. You actually have to do it."

A spokesman for House Speaker Will Weatherford said Thursday night that the House was reviewing the decision.

Lewis's ruling followed a 12-day trial earlier this year that centered on whether legislators used a "shadow" process to conceal the role of GOP consultants who helped draw up the maps. The groups pushing the lawsuit contended this process resulted in a handful of illegally-drawn congressional districts that were aimed at boosting Republicans overall.

The judge did not agree that all the districts cited by the groups were unconstitutional. But he found that two districts violated the new standards: a sprawling district held by U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown that runs from Jacksonville to Orlando and a central Florida district held by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster. Brown is a Democrat, while Webster is a Republican.

Lewis said the presence of two invalid districts rendered the entire congressional map invalid although he said that doesn't mean that every district must be redrawn. Lewis did not say in his ruling, however, whether the Legislature or the courts should be responsible for drawing the new districts.

Part of the evidence used by Lewis to make his decision was never presented publicly. It was kept secret because of legal challenges brought by one of the consultants involved. But Lewis said that evidence convinced him that the political operatives engaged in a "conspiracy to influence and manipulate the Legislature into a violation of its constitutional duty."

"They made a mockery of the Legislature's proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting by doing all of this in the shadow of the process," Lewis stated in his ruling.

The evidence presented publicly included testimony that a top House aide shared maps with a Republican consultant before they were made public. Another map, which resembled one put together by a consultant, was submitted in the name of a college student who said under oath he had nothing to do with it.

Lewis also questioned why legislators deleted emails and documents related to redistricting even though they knew a lawsuit was likely.

"There was no legal duty on the part of the Legislature to preserve these records, but you have to wonder why they didn't," Lewis wrote.

Both Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz testified during the trial that outside GOP consultants were told early on that they would have no role in the process. They both denied that the Legislature deliberately drew up maps to favor Republicans. Attorneys for the Legislature repeatedly pointed out during the trial that several Republican incumbents, including U.S. Rep. Allen West, lost their re-election bids in 2012.

Attorneys and legislators at the time also called the deletion of emails routine.

Even though there are more registered Democrats in the state, Republicans currently hold a 17-to-10 majority in Florida's congressional delegation. President Barack Obama also won the state in the last two presidential elections, although Republicans have won the last four gubernatorial races.

___

Follow Gary Fineout on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fineout

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • InternationalMore>>

  • Iraq: Kurdish politician Massoum named president

    Iraq: Kurdish politician Massoum named president

    Thursday, July 24 2014 9:04 AM EDT2014-07-24 13:04:51 GMT
    Iraqi officials say militants have attacked a prisoner convoy north of Baghdad, killing 52 prisoners and eight soldiers.
    Kurdish politician Fouad Massoum was named Iraq's new president on Thursday hours after an attack on a prison convoy killed dozens of people, brutally underscoring the challenges faced by the country's leaders as...
  • Taiwan airline suspects bad weather caused crash

    Taiwan airline suspects bad weather caused crash

    Thursday, July 24 2014 8:52 AM EDT2014-07-24 12:52:27 GMT
    Stormy weather on the trailing edge of Typhoon Matmo was the likely cause of a plane crash on a Taiwanese island that killed 48 people, the airline said Thursday.
    Stormy weather trailing behind a typhoon was the likely cause of a plane crash on a Taiwanese island that killed 48 people on board and injured 10 on the plane and five on the ground, the airline said Thursday.
  • France: Air Algerie flight vanishes over N Mali

    France: Air Algerie flight vanishes over N Mali

    Thursday, July 24 2014 8:52 AM EDT2014-07-24 12:52:21 GMT
    The official Algerian news agency says an Air Algerie flight from Burkina Faso to Algiers has disappeared from the radar.
    An Air Algerie flight carrying 116 people from Burkina Faso to Algeria's capital disappeared from radar early Thursday over northern Mali after heavy rains were reported, according to the plane's owner and...