Republican leaders acknowledge some redistricting records destroyedby John Kennedy | December 18th, 2013
House and Senate Republican leaders, battling with Democrats and their allies over last year’s Senate and congressional redistricting, acknowledged in new court filings that some records that may now be sought could have been destroyed.
The courtroom clash was taken to a higher level last week when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers could be forced to testify about discussions and strategy that went into the recast political boundaries.
Democrats allege Republican leaders huddled with consultants and exchanged email in an illegal effort to keep the GOP in command of the state Legislature and congressional delegation.
But in documents filed Dec. 9 in the ongoing case in Leon County Circuit Court, attorneys for the Legislature argue that while they have already turned over 10,000 records, not everything Democrats may demand are still available.
The filing cited a House rule allowing that documents “no longer needed for any purpose . . .shall be disposed of systematically,” barring extraordinary circumstances. Legislative attorneys argued that Democrats and their allies failed to notify top lawmakers that they planned to challenge the congressional and Senate boundaries that went into effect last year.
What’s missing is unclear. But the filing suggests that emails, text messages and other communication between lawmakers are likely among the records that have been erased.
Court documents in the lawsuits filed in Leon County Circuit Court already show that emails were exchanged among aides to Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and consultants who analyzed proposed maps. At the time, Gaetz and Weatherford were the redistricting chairmen of their respective chambers.
The emails also show that in 2010, Rich Heffley, a Florida Republican Party consultant advising Gaetz, organized a “brainstorming” meeting at the state party headquarters in Tallahassee.
Other documents show that Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, designated last week as Gaetz’s successor as president, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, also angling for the job in the future, emailed district information to consultants for review.
Weatherford, who like Gaetz is expected to be asked to give a videotaped deposition in the case, said the House did nothing wrong in its handling of redistricting documents.
“Any accusation that the Florida House of Representative thwarted the law and destroyed documents is completely false,” Weatherford said. “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.
He added, “The opponents in this lawsuit have received thousands and thousands of documents. They should know better.”
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