Judge tosses requests to void Arizona redistricting commission's results - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Judge tosses requests to void Arizona redistricting commission's results

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Posted: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 2:30 pm | Updated: 5:08 pm, Tue Oct 16, 2012.

A judge on Tuesday threw out a bid by some Republicans to void the congressional lines drawn by the Independent Redistricting Commission, at least for the time being.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Mark Brain said the lawsuit is legally flawed because it fails to comply with rules which require those seeking legal relief to file a "short and plain statement'' of the issues. The judge noted the complaint, complete with exhibits, is 135 pages long and "could have (ITALICS) easily (ROMAN) been made (ITALICS) significantly (ROMAN) shorter.''

Even if the complaint had complied with the rules, Brain said he would still dismiss three charges of commission misconduct. He said the allegations, even if true, do not amount to any violation of state laws.

But Brain's ruling does not end the matter. The judge gave those challenging the commission's action several more weeks to recraft the complaint with the remaining allegations that he said challengers are entitled to try to prove in court.

Potentially the most serious could be that commission members worked on preparing the congressional map outside of public meetings. If the judge ultimately concludes that is the case, it would force the commissioners to reconsider their actions -- this time in public view -- and potentially result in entirely new lines for the 2014 race.

Brain also said he will let the challengers try to prove the commission ignored a legal requirement to at least "consider'' legislative recommendations about their proposal -- recommendations commission members ultimately ignored.

Prior to 2000, congressional and legislative lines were drawn by state lawmakers, with members of the party in power usually able to craft maps to their liking.

That year voters approved creation of the five-member commission to do the decennial chore. Two members are chosen by Democratic legislative leaders and two by their Republican counterparts, with those four choosing a fifth person as chairman.

Republicans have charged that the commission crafted the congressional districts with an eye toward giving Democrats the edge through the 2010 election.

Part of that is based on the contention that Colleen Mathis, a registered political independent who chairs the commission, was doing the bidding of Democrats. But an effort by Gov. Jan Brewer to fire Mathis was blocked by the Arizona Supreme Court.

That left foes with the option of challenging the commission's work in court, alleging the panel violated several mandates of the 2000 law.

Attorney Lisa Hauser said she likely will refile the case by the Nov. 9 deadline set by the judge. Hauser said she believes that Brain is legally incorrect in some of his conclusions that the actions she is alleging do not violate the law.

The filing deadline is three days after the election. And it is possible that, despite complaints by Republicans of bias, GOP candidates Vernon Parker and Jonathan Paton could win their races in competitive districts.

If Hauser eventually wins in court, that could result in an order for the commission to redraw the congressional maps. And that, she conceded, could be less favorable to Republicans.

But Hauser said she and her clients believe it is important for the courts to decide if this commission broke the rules, as the outcome of this case will determine what procedures have to be followed by a new commission which will meet after the 2020 census.

Legal merits aside, Brain used Tuesday's ruling to chide Hauser for not only the size of her complaint but his belief that she buried the legally meaningful items amid irrelevant background and rhetoric.

For example, he said the complaint makes allegations about Mathis' application to be a commissioner "even though that has nothing to do with the constitutional process-based claims plaintiffs are making.'' He said it also "needlessly repeats the history behind the establishment of the commission, as well as the law surrounding it.'' And he said at least half -- if not more -- of the first 20 pages of the complaint would be relevant only "if the document were an expose or press release.''

The case before Brain is one of three challenges to the maps. Two others are pending in federal court, including one which says the 2000 initiative creating the commission illegally took the task of drawing congressional lines away from the Legislature.

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