Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lawyers' bills for redistricting top $695,000

Hourly fees as high as $825 put firms' total at 5 times that of 2001

North Carolina has paid several times as much on outside attorneys hired by Republican lawmakers for advice on new district boundaries and defending them as similar counsel was paid in the previous redistricting round, according to records and invoices.

Responding to public records requests by multiple media outlets, the General Assembly released documents showing the state has paid $695,049 since March 2011 to two firms - one based in South Carolina and another in Washington.

In the redistricting litigation that began in 2001, the state paid $131,475 in similar legal expenses, according to information accumulated at the request of an attorney working for the Senate. More legal expenses are expected this year as a three-judge panel hears a pair of lawsuits challenging the districts.

The legal expenses, which ranged from $245 to $825 per hour, are giving Democrats more ammunition to criticize the GOP-penned maps that are still being challenged in state court. Democratic elected officials and their allies have sued on grounds the boundaries for the General Assembly and the congressional delegation constitutes racial gerrymandering and creates confusion for voters.

Redistricting leaders at the Legislature defended the costs in a news release. They said money was well spent because the boundaries have held up so far in court and will be used for this year's elections, avoiding even more costly litigation and potentially requiring new elections that could cost millions.

The state attorney general's office remains lead litigator defending the maps on the state's behalf in the pending lawsuits.

"Due to the diligent work of our standing legal defense team, we have not lost a case, have not had to redraw districts and have not have expensive disruptions to the election process," said a statement from Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, and Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, chairmen of the Legislature's redistricting committees. They said the lawyers were paid "competitive rates" and that their use has provided "certainty that was lacking in the last redistricting process."

But the outside work costs, one legislative Democrat said, shows the extent of the legal efforts Republicans made to push the envelope on redistricting in 2011.

For a lower price, Republicans could "have drawn maps that would have given them a reasonable advantage of some sort and didn't victimize African-Americans by ghettoizing them into districts and also by inconveniencing voters by splitting precincts," said Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, the House Democrats' chief spokesman on redistricting. Instead, he said, the cost for unlawful maps "is without doubt an abuse of taxpayer dollars."

State Democratic Party Chairman David Parker said in a statement Republicans "will stop at no expense to ensure that their extreme partisan majority is locked in for years to come."

Republicans got to control the once-a-decade redrawing of the boundaries based on 2010 U.S. Census population figures because they won a majority in both the House and Senate in November 2010.

By Gary D. Robertson, The Associated Press

Source: The Charlotte Observer Newspaper

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