By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Ahead of an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, a GOP political consulting group wants a court to continue shielding the release of 538 pages of its documents relating to Florida’s 2012 redistricting effort.
Last week, in a rare unanimous vote, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Gainesville-based Data Targeting must make public hundreds of emails, maps and memos used during the state’s effort to redraw political districts.
The documents were a key part of a lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters and others. The lawsuit argued that when the Florida Legislature redrew the districts it violated laws enshrined in the 2010 Fair Districts Amendments, which mandates the state draw districts that don’t favor one party over the other.
The company, however, has argued the documents are trade secrets and should not be public record.
The First District Court of Appeal ruled this past summer that the documents should not be released, but the court later issued an opinion referring the matter to the Florida Supreme Court. Because the issue had not been settled during the trial, the courtroom was sealed off from the public and the media was asked to leave when the documents were discussed.
Now that Florida’s highest court has weighed in ordering the release of the documents by Nov. 20, Data Targeting is taking its fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The trial court repeatedly determined that the non-parties possessed relevant documents that were within the scope of the lawful discovery requests issued by the challengers,” read that opinion.
In a motion filed Tuesday, attorneys for the firm say that release should be delayed while they prepare a request for the case to be heard by the US Supreme Court. The motion states that US Supreme Court rules allow 90-days for a losing party to file the paperwork needed to have the nation’s highest court review a case, which would put the deadline at Feb. 15.
“Disclosure of the documents and sealed materials before the 90 day deadline expires would deprive the non-parties of the time needed to formulate the precise question(s) for petition,” read the motion, which was written by Kent Safriet, an attorney representing the firm.
The firm’s underlying argument is that its documents, which contain internal company communications are protected by the First Amendment, and a a release would cause the company harm.
“Disclosure of the documents and sealed materials would also cause the non-parties irreparable harm by making the non-parties confidential information available to the public,” read the motion.
The legal battle over these documents has been ongoing for months. News organizations from around the state have weighed-in urging the court to rule for disclosure of the documents.