You're spending $300 an hour to overturn your own vote

Scott Maxwell | OrlandoSentinel.com | 02/10/2011

By now, you probably know that some of your elected officials are fighting to overturn your vote for Fair Districts.

But did you know they're spending your money to do so?

Yes indeed — to the tune of $300-an-hour legal bills.

How much total? Well, that's what I wanted to know.

Getting answers, however, wasn't easy.

I started with the office of House Speaker Dean Cannon — the guy leading the legislative fight to overturn your vote.

Cannon and the state House joined the lawsuit that had already been filed by U.S. Reps Corrine Brown, D-Orlando, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami.

All of these political plaintiffs argue that Floridians had no right to call for compact, sensibly drawn congressional districts that aren't based upon party affiliation.

Such a thing, after all, might wreck the current system where politicians get to draw snake-like districts, tailor-made for themselves and their friends.

It didn't matter to them that an overwhelming majority of Floridians — 63 percent — passed the constitutional amendment. The politicians think you got it wrong and their authority has been trumped.

So they're asking the courts to throw out your vote on Amendment 6, the one that deals with congressional districts. (No one has yet challenged Amendment 5, the other one that deals with state legislative districts.)

Legal battles cost money. So I asked Cannon's office: How much?

The response: They were unsure.

Um … pardon? I must've misunderstood. Because it sounded like you said you weren't sure how much of my money you're spending to overturn my vote.

That can't be right, can it?

Turns out, it was.

Cannon spokeswoman Katie Betta said the House hired a gaggle of attorneys to handle all of the redistricting issues — including basic ones that have nothing to do with legal challenges.

Said Betta: "We do not have a breakdown of fees for the Amendment 6 case."

How convenient.

It also struck me as unusual. Cannon used to work for GrayRobinson. I simply can't imagine big-league lawyers being unable to figure out how much money they were spending on which parts of their legal affairs.

Hmm, maybe these guys are right: Government does lack accountability! (When they're the ones running it, anyway.)

OK, I figured, if you can't give me the specific legal bills I want, I guess I should ask for them all.

Betta dutifully responded with 47 pages of invoices. (On a personal note, I should say that Betta was very helpful and forthcoming throughout the process. If I asked for a public document, she delivered in timely fashion.)

The invoices showed that a lot of the money — more than $90,000 worth — went to the South Florida firm of lawyer, Miguel De Grandy, who charged taxpayers $300 an hour.

Another firm, Latham & Watkins, collected another $30,000 or so.

But the largest chunk of taxpayer dollars — more than $600,000 — went to Cannon's old firm, GrayRobinson.

I don't find the choice of law firms particularly suspect. GrayRobinson was hired before Cannon started as speaker. And Betta said that the Legislature had used lawyers at GrayRobinson for redistricting matters in decades past.

But you can bet your invoice that I still have questions and concerns about the billing in general.

I'm betting most of you do, too.

We now know taxpayers have shelled out more than $700,000 for legal work on redistricting.

But we don't know specifically how much of that was spent trying to overturn the public's vote, how much was spent trying to fight Fair Districts before the election and how much will be spent in the future.

That's unacceptable.

Taxpayers deserve detailed information about how every one of their dollars is spent.

And any amount of public money spent trying to thwart the public's will is too much.

Scott Maxwell can be reached at smaxwell@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-6141.

Copyright © 2011, Orlando Sentinel


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