The $7.9 million redistricting bill: The lawyers did very well, NM taxpayers not so good
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They squabbled in the legislature. They squabbled with the governor’s office. They squabbled in court. And the state Supreme Court squabbled with the retired judge they put in charge of reapportioning New Mexico’s voting districts before a final decision was reached.
Now, a breakdown of the costs of the 2011-2012 redistricting battle — the once-every-10-years process that every state has to go through to align voting areas in conjunction with the US Census — can be seen. The total? More than $7.9 million.
The costs of every major segment of the process was more expensive this time around than it was back in 2001-2002, when then-Gov. Gary Johnson and the legislature couldn’t come agreement and the whole thing went to court, with taxpayers paying $5.4 million when it was all said and done.
Just as 10 years ago, the biggest expense New Mexicans will have to digest is the litigation incurred. In the 2001-2002 battle, lawyers, plaintiff fees and legal costs came to $3.7 million. This time it came to $5.7 million.
Here’s the breakdown, as compiled by the Legislative Council Service and distributed to lawmakers in the Legislative Council committee on Tuesday (Sept. 25):
Just as anticipated, more plaintiffs filed suits this time around than they did 10 years earlier — ranging from representing Hispanic and Native American interests as well as Democrats in the Roundhouse (including Brian Egolf and Antonio “Moe” Maestas) and Republicans (Conrad James and Don Bratton) who took part directly or indirectly in the legal wranglings.
Once litigants are ruled to have standing by the redistricting judge, legal fees and assorted court costs are picked up, in accordance to statute.
That, state Sen. Bill Payne (R-Albuquerque) said Tuesday at the committee hearing, is an incentive for lawsuits to get filed whenever redistricting ends up in court.
“This is like putting food on you back porch and expecting cats not to come eat the food,” he said.
“This is a great 401(k) for attorneys,” state Sen. Stuart Ingle (R-Portales) said, while adding, “I don’t know how to stop it. I don’t know if you can.”
“We need to more clearly define what it takes to be a prevailing party,” Payne said, suggesting a study to see how other states deal with redistricting costs. “We need to provide some clarity … and give the judiciary some guidelines.”
So did some of the lawmakers whose names are attached to the litigation receive any pay in the settlements?
“Not a cent,” Rep. Egolf (D-Santa Fe) told Capitol Report New Mexico, citing sections of the Civil Rights Act pertaining to attorneys costs and legal fees rather than any payments that go to plaintiffs. Egolf said he presumes that Reps. Maestas (D-Albuquerque) and James (R-Albuquerque) also received no payments outside of the bills their respective attorneys racked up. Calls to Maestas and James went unreturned Tuesday.
Rep. Bratton also said he didn’t receive any payments for being part of the litigation.
Posted under Capitol Report.
Tags: Antonio Moe Maestas, Bill Payne, Brian Egolf, Conrad James, Don Bratton, Gary Johnson, Judge Jim Hall, Legislative Council, New Mexico Supreme Court, redistricting, Stuart Ingle