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    Parties prep for legal duels on redistricting

    Court dates are set to hear challenges to political power lines drawn by the GOP-dominated Legislature.

    By STEVE BOUSQUET, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 10, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- Ten months ago, state lawmakers embarked on the complex, combative job of redrawing districts for themselves and Congress. But in many ways, the job is just beginning.

    At courthouses in Jacksonville and Tallahassee, staffers are learning how to use redistricting software as the once-a-decade brawl over allocating political power takes on renewed urgency.

    Attorney General Bob Butterworth wants the Florida Supreme Court to toss out the new legislative districts and order lawmakers back to their computers and committee rooms.

    Butterworth, a Democrat, said the Republican Legislature failed to adopt "objective standards" to guide its mapmaking, then drew "contorted" districts that do not respect county boundaries.

    His opposition prompted criticism from a parade of key Republican legislators and lawyers, some of whom accused him of putting partisan politics ahead of his constitutional duty.

    "The attorney general is way off base," said Jim Scott, the Senate's lead redistricting attorney and a former Senate president. If legislators followed Butterworth's advice to the letter and honored city and county boundaries, Scott said, it would destroy many existing districts drawn a decade ago to help minority voters elect their candidates of choice.

    A tight timetable for legal review appears certain to collide with the need for lawmakers to hold another special session to adopt a budget, rewrite the public education code and reorganize the Cabinet before they can start campaigning.

    "It's really up to the court to decide whether it can put its stamp of validity on these plans," said Deputy Attorney General Paul Hancock, who will argue Butterworth's side in the Supreme Court. "I believe the attorney general has fulfilled his constitutional responsibility. We just need to let it play out."

    The Supreme Court has set oral arguments from all sides for April 23 and must issue its decision by May 8. If the court rejects the legislative maps, Gov. Jeb Bush must convene a special 15-day session of the Legislature on reapportionment.

    Three black Democratic members of Congress are suing in Miami, while U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, filed a lawsuit in Tallahassee.

    A federal appeals judge and two U.S. District Court judges will hear those lawsuits. They are Judge Gerald Tjoflat of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta and U.S. District Judges Robert Hinkle of Tallahassee and Adalberto Jordan of Miami. The three-judge panel has called a conference on the two lawsuits for Monday in Jacksonville.

    -- Times staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report, and information from the Associated Press was used.

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