Fair Districts groups ask Supreme Court to force lawmakers to testify

Tallahassee Bureau Chief

TALLAHASSEE -- The coalition of voting-rights groups suing the Florida Legislature over last year's redistricting maps are asking the Florida Supreme Court to decide whether to force lawmakers to go under oath in the lingering legal battle.

The Fair Districts plaintiffs, which include the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, asked the Florida Supreme Court this week to step into a fight over whether lawmakers and their staff can be deposed in a legal challenge to the Senate and congressional maps.

Last month, an appeals court decided 2-1 that legislators should not be questioned under oath about whether they "intended" to gain partisan advantage when they re-drew congressional maps last year.

The Florida Supreme Court is currently weighing whether to allow the groups to continue fighting the maps through deeper evidence-gathering than the high court had to work with last year when it OK'd them ahead of the 2012 elections.

Earlier this year, the groups also got a Leon County judge to allow them to start deposing legislative leaders and get access to records protected from public release.

But the First District Court of Appeal overruled that circuit court decision in May, agreeing with lawyers for the House and Senate that they are shielded by legislative privilege from having to give testimony under oath about their intentions.

Fair Districts lawyer Adam Schachter this week asked the high court to take up the question.

"The decision is within the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction because it expressly construes a provision of the Florida State Constitution and expressly affects a class of constitutional or state officers," he wrote.

Last week, the same Leon County circuit judge held outside Republican political consultants in contempt for not following an order from last year to turn over thousands of pages of internal emails -- records the company, Data Targeting Inc., said was trade-secret protected information not relevant to the case.

This week, a special magistrate is supposed to start reviewing some 1,800 pages of the records to decide whether to release it to the plaintiffs.

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