Friday, June 19, 2015

UPDATE: Arizona Taxpayers' Bill For Post-Redistricting Legal Battles Greater Than $3.65M, Even With Fmr U.S. Solicitor General Waiving Fees (Pro Bono)

Arizona's taxpayers have paid five law firms more than $3.65 Million for post-redistricting legal battles.

Wednesday, Arizona's Politics reported on the legal costs incurred by Arizona taxpayers because of the partisan battle over the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission - that article noted the costs - to the taxpayers - had "exceeded $3.4 Million." The AIRC has now provided breakouts of legal fees it has paid over the past four years, and it turns out that the legal bill is now at $3,649,239.

The article had relied upon the records provided by Arizona Open Books, as the most reliable source of unbiased information about state expenditures.  Even so, that site has limitations - such as, the inability to distinguish between legal fees paid for one case or another - and the article listed them.

There were many good responses to the article, but the most helpful came from the AIRC itself.  After discussing the numbers and the current statuses of the cases with Ray Bladine, the AIRC's Executive Director*, I received spreadsheet data breaking down the $5.3M total spent on outside counsel in the past four years.

To come up with our revised post-redistricting, partisan litigation number of $3.65M+, we removed the $1.2M in "General" legal fees, the $578K incurred in fighting then-Attorney General Tom Horne's challenge of the AIRC's open meetings, and the $182K expended to fight then-Governor Jan Brewer's action for removal.  We then added the $360K paid by the Arizona Legislature to local law firm Davis Miles and U.S. Supreme Court expert Paul Clement, as part of the case that Arizona (and several other states) are anxiously awaiting a decision from the Justices (within the next couple of weeks).

There are presently three live cases against the AIRC, all from either Republican lawmakers, or Republican-philic interests.  Surprisingly, the AIRC has spent THE LEAST in outside legal expenses on the Arizona Legislature v. AIRC case about to be decided by the Supreme Court.

This is partly because it is a Constitutional challenge that did not require much time-intensive (costly) discovery, and partly because the U.S. Supreme Court expert Seth Waxman surprisingly agreed to represent the Redistricting Commission pro bono.  That saved Arizona taxpayers somewhere between $300-500,000.***

Again, what is NOT included or currently calculable is the amount taxpayers have paid for Assistant AG's and other Arizona-employed attorneys (at the Legislature, the Secretary of State's Office, the Governor's Office, etc.) while they have been working on these cases.  We have also not included those challenges that were mounted by the AG or the Governor

Here are the three live cases, their statuses, and the amounts spent on legal fees:
1) Arizona Legislature v. AIRC: $558,092 spent by Defendant, at least $359,938 spent by Plaintiff. The U.S. Supreme Court will issue its ruling within the next couple of weeks. It will either uphold the Arizona voters' decision to give redistricting responsibility to the independent commission (appointed by the legislature), or it will give redistricting back to the lawmakers.

2) Harris v. AIRC: The AIRC has spent $1,734,603 in legal fees. The U.S. Supreme Court has received an appeal by the Plaintiffs, but has not decided whether to accept the case yet. It is very possible that the Justices are waiting to hand down the other AIRC opinion, in order to avoid accepting a case that they might be about to moot. The Plaintiffs are Republican-backed (including money from the well-known Koch Brothers network), and are seeking to overturn the AIRC's state legislative maps.

3) Leach v. AIRC: The AIRC has spent just shy of $1M ($996,606) on this case.  The Plaintiffs are a mix of Republican legislators and supporters, who are challenging the Commission's procedures.  A great deal of discovery took place in this case before the parties and the Court (Maricopa County Superior) agreed last year to put the case on hold pending a decision or decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court.

(Tempe attorney Paul Weich contributed to this article. Mr. Weich practices election law, but has not represented any parties in the redistricting cases.)

*Bladine reports that he and the AIRC are still open pending court decision(s), albeit with a skeletal staff and part time hours.
**Nearly all of the "general" legal fees were incurred in FY12, which is when the final maps were still being worked on.
***It also could legitimately make you wonder about the $304,884 paid by the Republican legislators to Clement, and whether they could have saved taxpayers that money by seeking out an attorney that felt the same constitutional/ideological urgency that they did.

We welcome your comments about this post. Or, if you have something unrelated on your mind, please e-mail to info-at-arizonaspolitics-dot-com or call 602-799-7025. Thanks.

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