Judge dismisses wordy suit over congressional maps

October 16, 2012
Arizona Capitol Times
Jeremy Duda

A Maricopa County judge threw out a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission’s congressional maps, ruling that the complaint was too long-winded and contained reams of irrelevant information.

Superior Court Judge Mark Brain dismissed three of the six complaints outright, saying they simply weren’t valid. The rest of the complaints, however, violated a rule of civil procedure stating the complaints must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”

Read the ruling

Brain said the 135-page complaint was full of non-pertinent information, such as allegations that IRC Chair Colleen Mathis omitted information from her application, a recitation of a battle over open meeting law and a recounting of Gov. Jan Brewer and the Legislature’s impeachment of Mathis. The judge ruled that the suit violated Rule 8(a) of the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure.

“Much of the purported background (and several of the exhibits) have essentially nothing to do with the actual legal theories contained in Counts 1-6,” Brain wrote. “Without losing anything pertinent, plaintiffs could easily have eliminated at least half (and perhaps even two-thirds) of the first 20 pages of the first amended complaint (including the introduction, which might well have been proper if the document were an expose or a press release, but has little place in a complaint).”

Much of the complaint rehashed a long-running battle dispute over the actions of the two Democratic commissioners and the independent chairwoman. Republicans allege that the three sought to create a map favorable to Democrats, and have filed several lawsuits against the IRC and the maps.

Brain gave the plaintiffs, who are backed by Fair Trust, a Republican redistricting organization, until Nov. 9 to file an amended complaint.

However, three of the counts in the complaint, mostly allegations that the IRC violated the constitutionally mandated redistricting process, were rejected outright. Brain tossed out an allegation that the IRC abandoned the grid map it must use as a starting point and used prohibited factors in creating the map.

Under the Arizona Constitution, the grid map must be based  on equal population and compactness.  But Brain said the IRC was permitted to use other factors in choosing between two proposed grid maps, and to suggest otherwise is “absurd.”

Brain rejected an allegation that commissioners secretly arranged to select Strategic Telemetry, a Democratic firm with a client list that includes President Barack Obama, as the IRC’s mapping consultant. Brain said the complaint did not actually allege that a quorum of commissioners met outside of an open meeting.

And an accusation that the IRC did not sufficiently meet the requirements of the Voting Rights Act fell short as well.

“As pled, this claim fails. It is undisputed that the commission advertised a map. Plaintiffs’ quibble is with the sufficiency of the data that the commission used in considering these criteria before doing so. But deciding whether the data is sufficient, or whether more data should be obtained, is a judgment call,” Brain wrote.

Even on the counts that Brain said could be re-filed, he seemed skeptical on their chances of success.  He said it would be difficult for the plaintiffs to show that the commission adopted a brand new map instead of adjusting the grid map, as required.

“Although one can wonder how plaintiffs will actually prove-up the abandonment allegation, plaintiffs are entitled to try,” Brain wrote. “For example, do plaintiffs really expect someone to come forward and admit that they drew up a map from scratch mid-process rather than adjusting the existing maps?”

On a count that the IRC failed to consider legislative recommendations, Brain said the Constitution requires the commissioners to familiarize themselves with the Legislature’s findings, but does not require an up-or-down vote on them, or even a discussion. And an allegation that a quorum of commissioners met outside of an open meeting to work on the “donut hole” map of Maricopa County – which initially left the county blank — can move forward if re-filed as well, Brain wrote.

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