Judge awards nearly $3M for NM redistricting fees

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By Barry Massey

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Taxpayers must pick up the tab for nearly $3 million in fees for attorneys who represented Democratic, Republican, Native American and Hispanic voter interests in redistricting trials, a New Mexico judge decided Monday.

District Judge James Hall's order covers lawyer fees for six groups that brought lawsuits over revamping political district boundaries for the Legislature, Congress and Public Regulation Commission.

Redistricting landed in court last year after Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and the Democratic-controlled Legislature disagreed on how to redraw district boundaries to adjust for population growth during the past decade.

Hall said the groups were entitled to attorney's fees because they prevailed in parts of the redistricting dispute, but he reduced some fees by 10 percent based on the degree of success the various groups had in the litigation.

Hall's order covers only part of the costs of the redistricting fight.

The state has agreed to pay nearly $271,000 for lawyers who represented the Navajo Nation. Taxpayers also must cover the costs of lawyers for Republican Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, Secretary of State Dianna Duran and a private attorney who represented the governor.

The Legislature has paid about $894,000 for lawyers that represented legislative leaders in the redistricting trials as well as an Albuquerque demographic research firm that prepared redistricting maps during the litigation.

Hall rejected a suggestion by the governor that the Legislature be required to pay for the attorney's fees of Democratic-leaning groups in the redistricting fight and that the executive branch should be liable for fees for the Navajos and GOP interests aligned with the governor.

Hall denied "the request to divide the fees between various defendants because the request itself only reaffirms the 'us-versus-them' mentality which pervades our present political environment."

"This request shows that the executive defendants still fail to recognize that the obligation to redistrict the state following the census is a shared responsibility of the Legislature and executive branches. When the legislative and executive branches fail to comply with their legal obligation, all taxpayers bear the financial consequences," Hall said.

The judge also said it would represent a significant expansion of court powers if he ordered attorney's fees split between the budgets of different parts of state government.

"In all candor, there is some appeal to the idea that this court has the authority to assess the attorney's fees against individual defendants, especially in light of this court's finding that the governor failed to even communicate with multiple Native American tribes during the redistricting process; however, the court resists the temptation to do so because such an expansion of judicial authority is not authorized under law," said Hall.