Tensions mounted Wednesday more than a week before the special session on Senate redistricting is set to begin as House and Senate leaders acknowledged that staff had begun drafting maps using guidelines agreed to exclusively by the leaders and their lawyers, but the lawyer hired to represent Senate Democrats would not be allowed to take part in the process. Senate Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano acknowledged that the drawing of Senate districts is well underway by House and Senate staff for the three-week special session that begins Oct. 19. They are working in a sequestered space in the Senate redistricting suite and are being advised by the lawyers hired by the GOP-led Senate and House but, he said, the Senate Democrats will not have a separate lawyer at the table. Senate Democrat Leader Arthenia Joyner told the Herald/Times she has hired Tallahassee attorney Mark Herron to represent Senate Democrats in the redistricting process, using funds from the Florida Democratic Party, after Senate President Andy Gardiner twice rejected her request to allow the Democratic caucus to have its own lawyer advise them during the drawing of the Senate redistricting map.
“I had no choice,” Joyner said. “There is an inherent conflict because they drew the maps to favor Republicans. These same lawyers defended the maps and then admitted they violated the Constitution. Now, these lawyers are giving advice … Either fire them and get new lawyers, or hire us our own lawyers.”
She said the Senate’s current lawyers, former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero and Jason Zakia, were the Senate’s lead lawyers defending the existing maps in the protracted legal battle over the congressional and Senate redistricting maps first adopted by lawmakers in 2012. Cantero’s signature was on the stipulated settlement agreement admitting that the Senate map violated the state constitution’s Fair Districts standards.