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Friday, August 24, 2012

 11:31 AM 

Groups question in court filing if GOP attorneys intentionally withheld documents in redistricting suit

The two groups that sued over the redistricting maps Republicans drew in 2011 charge in a new court filing that GOP attorneys may have intentionally withheld documents that supported the plaintiffs’ claims the new lines violated the constitution.

The attorneys for a group of Dem voters and Voces de la Frontera asked the court to require a forensic examination of any computers used in relation to redistricting, appoint an independent party to do the review at no cost to the plaintiffs and then assess any appropriate sanctions once the process is complete.

Peter Earle, the attorney for Voces de la Frontera, said the forensic examination of the redistricting computers is needed to determine how many records were withheld and whether their omission was intentional.

“At this point all we know is material, extremely relevant documents, were not produced despite the certification to the court that everything relevant was produced,” Earle said.

Doug Poland, who represented the group of Dem voters, said depending on what was found in the forensic examination, there may be grounds to re-argue claims that were unsuccessful in trial on things such as the composition of African-American districts.

Both sides in the redistricting suit engaged in a protracted fight over what records relating to the process of redrawing the state's political maps should be turned over for trial. A panel of three federal judges eventually upheld most of the districts, but found lawmakers violated the Voting Rights Act by failing to create a majority-minority Assembly district for Milwaukee’s Latino community.

The existence of the emails that were not turned over came to light after Dems took control of the state Senate this summer and released legal documents from the attorneys that Republicans hired to help draw the maps and represent them in the ensuing suit.

The filing cites, for example, one email exchange over Latino citizenship numbers in a proposed district while the lines were still being finalized. In an email from attorney Jim Troupis, who GOP lawmakers hired as part of their legal team, the lawyer writes one of the team’s expert witnesses told him the Latino citizenship numbers were important in the proposed districts and “believes that no matter how you draw the district, there is not a Hispanic majority district when you consider [voter] turnout.”

Troupis advised the others on the email to not send the team’s expert requests on that topic because he “will be deposed and this may become public.”

Attorney Eric McLeod, who worked for Michael Best & Friedrich at the time as part of the GOP lawmakers’ legal team, responded the issue had been discussed at length and it had been decided to “move forward as we have intentionally” after soliciting input from the Hispanic community on two proposed Assembly districts. He downplayed the possibility of “any significant legal risk” with the proposed map and if a court found they were wrong, “the likely remedy would be to make that single change.”

Voces de la Frontera prevailed in its claim that the proposed Assembly districts 8 and 9 violated the Voting Rights Act. But Earle said the group had to drop a claim at trial about an equal protection violation because it did not have evidence to suggest there was an intent to discriminate against Latino voters. He argued the email exchange cited in the motion showed evidence of intent and could open the door to compensatory damages being awarded in the suit.

According to the motion, Michael Best & Friedrich responded to the plaintiff’s attorneys that it was not sure why the documents were not produced and would have to consult with McLeod, who is no longer with the firm. One GOP attorney expressed his belief that the email chains were “simply missed during the reviews.”

Troupis and an MBF attorney did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

-- By JR Ross

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