Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed a new budget into law yesterday. It contains $1.1M for the entire Independent Redistricting Commission budget. That amount is not enough to cover the expected legal expenses for the Leach v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission case, which has already cost taxpayers $1.5M.
Primarily because the Leach case had been placed on the back burner (by the parties and the court) while the (GOP-controlled) Legislature brought its constitutional challenge to the Supreme Court (2015) and Republican interests brought their challenge to the maps to the Supreme Court (2016), the AIRC currently has $695,000 in unspent appropriations from 2014 and 2015.
Discovery has been proceeding hot and heavy - with plenty of disputes - during the past year, and the AIRC estimates it will cost more than $1.8M for the fiscal year ending next month. Much of that is because the individual Commissioners each have had to have separate attorneys. A conference to set the case for trial is scheduled for November.
Earlier this year, the AIRC requested that the Legislature permit the AIRC to carry over the $695,000 balance to help cover the legal costs through trial. (A March 30 memo to AIRC Commissioners and cc'ed to legislative leaders is published below.) "The Legislature said no," AIRC Deputy Executive Director Kristina Gomez told Arizona's Politics. "They were not rude, they just did not do it."
Two of the Plaintiffs in the Leach case are Sen. Don Shooter (R-LD13) and Rep. Vince Leach (R-LD11). They are the Chair and the Vice-Chair of their respective bodies' Appropriations Committees. Both have declined repeated requests by Arizona's Politics to comment on the AIRC's appropriations as it relates to the litigation.*
"You have leaders of one body of government controlling the monies for what is supposed to be a fully independent body of government. This is not surprising, and it is not right," Assistant Minority Leader Sen. Steve Farley (D-LD9) told Arizona's Politics. Farley also noted that voters made the AIRC independent because of the nature of their task - redistricting legislative and Congressional districts.
If the AIRC runs out of taxpayer funds to defend the suit before or during trial, it has a few options available, including asking the judge to order the state government (including plaintiffs Leach and Shooter) to properly fund the defense
There have been suggestions that the Legislature did not permit the carry over of funds because the suit might be settled after the unanimous Supreme Court opinion last month reiterated that slight population discrepancies between districts is generally permissible. However, Joe Kanefield, of Ballard & Spahr, represents the AIRC; he says that there have been no settlement discussions. Kanefield adds that he does not think that the two Supreme Court opinions give the Leach plaintiffs incentive to settle:
"Harris challenged the legislative map under federal law while Leach challenges the congressional map under state law. Given that there are no federal claims involved in Leach, the Arizona Supreme Court will have the final say should the losing party pursue all appeal rights. "
Arizona taxpayers have spent at least $4,671,240 on attorneys' fees for the GOP legal challenges**. The maps have been in place since the 2012 elections, and less than 4 years remain until the next re-districting process begins.
(This article was largely prepared by Tempe political law attorney Paul Weich. He does not represent any of the parties listed in this article.)
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