Independent, Dems on Arizona redistricting panel vote to shore up legal defense - at public expense - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Independent, Dems on Arizona redistricting panel vote to shore up legal defense - at public expense

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Posted: Saturday, October 29, 2011 11:25 pm | Updated: 7:21 am, Tue Nov 8, 2011.

Three members of the Independent Redistricting Commission voted Saturday night to spend public funds to hire lawyers for each of them to respond to questions raised about their conduct by Gov. Jan Brewer.

The move, which followed a closed-door session, came over the objections of Scott Freeman, one of the two Republicans on the panel. He said it is not "appropriate'' for the panel, which already is paying two law firms to represent the commission as a whole, to shell out more cash for more attorneys.

So the other three -- independent Chairwoman Colleen Mathis and Democrats Linda McNulty and Jose Herrera -- voted to leave Freeman and fellow Republican Richard Stertz out and instead get more legal help only for themselves.

Ray Bladine, the commission's executive director, said the attorneys will work over the rest of the weekend in a bid to meet Brewer's deadline to respond to her questions by 8 a.m. Monday.

An extension is unlikely.

``The governor believes the Independent Redistricting Commission and its cadre of lawyers will be more than able to comply with Monday's deadline,'' press aide Matthew Benson said late Saturday.

Bladine said the amount each of the three lawyers are charging varies but said it averages out at about $295 an hour.

Mathis, who attended the meeting in Yuma by phone, did not return a call asking about the move.

The decision to retain three lawyers to respond to Brewer is likely to only exacerbate the controversy.

In her letter last week to the commission, the governor questioned an earlier decision to hire those same attorneys as legal counsel for the same three commissioners.

That was to respond to a separate probe of the panel that was being conducted by Attorney General Tom Horne. Brewer said she does not believe there is legal authority to retain multiple attorneys.

Freeman and Stertz did not seek legal help there, either, opting to testify about possible Open Meeting Law violations rather than fighting his authority to question them.

In his comments Saturday, Freeman said spending more money on lawyers to deal with Brewer's concerns "would compound the concerns ... in the governor's letter.'' But he said the issue goes deeper than that.

"The constitution requires the commission to conduct our business in public meetings,'' he said. And Freeman said there is a mandate for commissioners "committing themselves to conduct themselves in a fair and honest and impartial manner and in a manner that would build confidence in the public in the integrity of the process.''

Several of Brewer's allegations relate to the same questions Horne was raising: Did Mathis try to line up votes ahead of time to select Strategic Telemetry as the consultant to help draw the 30 legislative and nine congressional districts. Horne contends that once Mathis spoke to more than one commissioner, even in individual phone calls, she effectively was violating the Open Meeting Law by trying to reach an accord of the majority of the five-member panel.

Brewer also said there were discussions among commissioners, ahead of the public meeting to award a contract, to award a perfect score to that firm which has strong ties to Democratic interests.

"These concerns are not just the governor's,'' Freeman said. "I think that they're shared by a lot of people in the public.''

Freeman said the commissioners themselves should respond to Brewer, without getting more lawyers involved.

"I don't think it's appropriate at this time to take the step of authorizing the expenditure of additional public funds to have additional legal representation for individual commissioners,'' he said.

In a separate vote, the panel directed Mary O'Grady, one of the two staff attorneys, to respond to a separate letter by Brewer questioning some of the decisions the panel made in drawing the congressional districts. What they told O'Grady to tell the governor, though, is not known, as that, too, was discussed behind closed doors.

The other staff attorney, Joe Kanefield, will not be participating in that response. That is because he used to be the governor's chief legal counsel and still represent her, as an attorney in private practice, in several other legal matters.

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