Consultant, aide must give testimony to Democrats

-By Patrick Marley

December 8, 2011- Madison – In a setback for Republicans defending new legislative districts, a three-judge federal panel on Thursday ordered a consultant and a Senate aide who helped draft the maps to give depositions to Democrats suing over their constitutionality.

The ruling signals that other aides will likely have to provide videotaped testimony as well. The court said if it deems future attempts to quash subpoenas as being made in bad faith, it will award attorney fees to the Democratic group.

This case is being heard by J.P. Stadtmueller of the eastern district of Wisconsin, Diane P. Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Robert M. Dow Jr. of the northern district of Illinois. Stadtmueller was appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan, Wood was appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton and Dow was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush.

The Democratic group sought this month to depose Joe Handrick, a lobbyist and former lawmaker hired by Republicans as a consultant this year, and Tad Ottman, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau). The Legislature asked the court to quash those subpoenas for testimony and documents.

On Thursday, the judges said the two must give testimony and turn over documents with as little as five days' notice. The panel, writing unanimously, said attorney-client privilege and legislative immunity did not shield either from having to testify.

Fitzgerald spokesman Andrew Welhouse declined to comment.

Republican lawmakers have been secretive about the process they used to draw the maps. Fitzgerald and his brother, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon), so far have not told the Journal Sentinel what Handrick's duties were or how much he was paid.

Lawmakers billed taxpayers $400,000 for the use of two law firms for their work on redistricting, Michael Best & Friedrich and the Troupis Law Office. Legislators have not said how that money was used.

'Relevant and important'
Every 10 years, states must draw new legislative maps to account for changes in population. Those maps can give dramatic advantages to one side or the other in races for the Legislature and Congress.

In past decades in Wisconsin, Republicans and Democrats shared control of state government when they had to draw new maps. They couldn't reach agreement, and courts ended up drawing them. But this year, Republicans control both houses of the Legislature and the governor's office, and they were able to approve new maps in August that favor their party for the November 2012 elections.

The group of Democratic citizens sued over the maps even before they were unveiled. A trial is slated for February to hear the group's arguments that the new maps violate the Voting Rights Act and the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution because of the way they treat minority communities. The group also argues the new maps are unconstitutional because 300,000 people would have to wait six years, instead of the usual four, between regular state Senate elections because they were transferred from one district to another.

The Legislature argued in trying to prevent the depositions that the testimony of Handrick and Ottman was not relevant. All that matters is whether the maps are constitutional, not how lawmakers arrived at them, the lawmakers argued.



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