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Democrats and state lawyers fight over redistricting records

Published December 3, 2011 7:27 am

Politics • Party balks at bill of $5,000 for documents needed to file a lawsuit.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Democrats say the Utah Legislature is dragging its heels and is trying to overcharge them for records that they need to file a lawsuit challenging Utah's controversial new U.S. House district boundaries.

But Legislative General Counsel John Fellows says his office is treating Democrats and Republicans the same.

He said the Republican Party made a more limited request for records of communications among lawmakers about redistricting and was willing to pay about $2,000 for them. So the records for the GOP were ready for delivery on Friday.

He said the Democratic Party has been unwilling to pay the $5,000 estimated cost for a much bigger request it made, so delivery is likely 60 days away from whenever party officials finally say they are willing to pay.

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said, "They are playing games with us. The amount they are trying to charge us is absurd. And they are making excuse after excuse about why they need more time to produce the documents."

He added, "They know we need those records to file a lawsuit on redistricting, so I think they are acting in a partisan way to make it hard. ... We had another meeting with lawyers last night getting ready for the lawsuit. But it is difficult without those documents," which the party suspects may show Republicans used partisan data to draw boundaries to create heavily Republican districts.

Dabakis says that the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) gives the Legislature the option to provide such records free of charge if it is in the public interest, and he argues it is.

"They are public records, and we shouldn't be charged for them," he said.

The Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel disagrees. Its written response to the Democrats said it figures the primary beneficiary of the records would be the Democratic Party to help with its lawsuit, not the public. "It is unfair to taxpayers that they should have the burden of paying for the staff time spent responding to your records request," the office said.

The letter said that the office had already spent 54.5 hours working on Democrats' initial request —¬†which was later expanded. "At a rate of $25 per hour, fees are already at $1,362.50," it said.

Fellows said his office is waiting to take further action on the Democrats' request until they agree to pay or reduce what they seek. But Dabakis says his party should not need to pay and is debating what to do.

Dabakis also said the Legislature should be able to produce the documents much more rapidly than 60 days.

Fellows said that a lot of time is needed to process a request that would be voluminous, including all communications by all lawmakers about redistricting. "We are following the law," he said.

Democrats say their partisan data show that Republicans drew new congressional districts so that each is between 62 and 74 percent GOP. Republicans say those estimates are a bit high, and the new districts are between 59 and 72 percent Republican.




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