The maps are drawn, so are the battle lines
© St. Petersburg Times
It's clear that Florida's redistricting fight is far from over.
Those who thought the Florida Supreme Court decision approving new state House and Senate districts was the end of that fight might be surprised to learn that a three-judge federal panel reviewing congressional districts is signaling that it also will review legislative districts.
That's just one of the more startling developments coming from South Florida courts this week.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle advised lawyers for both sides that the federal panel will start with the congressional plan at a June 3 trial but will also need to review the Senate and House districts.
In addition, Broward Circuit Judge Robert Lance Andrews is threatening to toss out all of the defendants, legislators and Gov. Jeb Bush -- leaving only Attorney General Bob Butterworth to defend a separate suit filed in state court.
Butterworth appears to be siding with the three Democratic members of Congress who filed the suit. If he remains as the only defendant, legislators fear he would merely agree with U.S. Reps. Carrie Meek, Alcee Hastings and Corinne Brown that the districts should be redrawn.
This came a day after Butterworth opened a third front in the legal battle earlier this week when he filed suit in Washington, asking the federal courts to review all redistricting plans instead of allowing officials at the Department of Justice to perform the review.
Butterworth's deputy, Paul Hancock, suggests that the family relationship between President Bush and Gov. Jeb Bush would keep Justice officials from fairly reviewing the plans.
Asked to comment on the allegation, the governor replied with one word: "Jeez."
Hancock wiggled around questions posed by the three federal judges in a hearing this week, refusing to say which side the attorney general was taking.
Each time U.S. District Judge Gerald B. Tjoflat pressed Hancock for an answer, he was noncommittal, saying things like "that will depend on the evidence . . ."
Clearly annoyed, the judges pushed on, asking Hancock "what is the point of the filing" when Florida lawyers had already asked the Justice Department to approve the plan.
"We believe there is opposition to this plan," Hancock responded. "There will be intervenors that will raise issues on both sides."
In sum, we now have lawsuits moving in three different courts, two federal and one state -- in two states and three different cities. And Butterworth, the man who defended redistricting plans a decade ago when Democrats were in charge, has made himself an enemy of the state.
How weird can we get?
"I have things in so many courts, I don't know what to do next," former Rep. Miguel DeGrandy said Friday. The House has hired him to help defend all of the plans.
"It's outrageous and blatantly partisan," complained DeGrandy of Butterworth. "His implication is really offensive and beneath the dignity of an attorney general."
Hancock said Butterworth is merely using his own staff and has not hired any of the "high-priced" lawyers retained by legislators.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, accused Butterworth of "judge shopping." The senator questioned why the attorney general would go to court in Washington when the issues are already being heard by three federal judges in Florida.
"Butterworth is dramatically increasing the cost to the state," Latvala said. "The taxpayers are paying the bill for all of us."
On Friday, attorneys for the governor and the Legislature filed an emergency motion in federal court in Miami asking that Butterworth be formally declared an opponent of the state.
Butterworth's attempt to bypass the Justice Department is "an action unprecedented in the annals of the Voting Rights Act," allege the lawyers.
House Speaker Tom Feeney says Butterworth should be defending the state but is being pressured by fellow Democrats.
"He has a duty to defend Florida law," said Feeney, R-Oviedo. "If we passed a new death penalty statute, would he be arguing that it was unconstitutional?"
Feeney described the efforts of Broward Judge Andrews to toss everyone else out of the lawsuit as "so bizarre some court will straighten him out."
But for a while, he concedes, it's going to be interesting.
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