Redistricting commission member sues the group over late FOIA response

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A member of Michigan's Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission has filed suit against the group for failing to respond to a public records request. 

Commissioner Erin Wagner, a Republican, filed the suit in the Court of Claims Wednesday to force the production of the documents requested in a Dec. 23 Freedom of Information Act request. 

The commission said it was "saddened" to hear of Wagner's complaint, which was first reported by Gongwer News Service

"We look forward to addressing her claim amicably," said Edward Woods, a spokesman for the commission. 

Commissioners speak and listen to public comment at the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission meeting in Lansing on Dec. 28, 2021. Commissioner Erin Wagner, a Republican, filed a lawsuit in the Court of Claims Wednesday because the commission hasn't provided documents she requested in a Dec. 23 Freedom of Information Act request.

Wagner had requested on Dec. 23 about three months of communications not subject to attorney client privilege among members of the commission and commission attorneys. The commission responded Jan. 4 to Wagner, seeking a 10-day extension to its response time, and had not contacted her since. 

"Through the date of the complaint — nearly a month after the expiration of the extended deadline — defendant has still not signaled whether it will deny or grant plaintiff's request nor has it produced any of the requested public records," Wagner's filing said. 

Wagner asked for immediate disclosure of the information sought as well as all attorney fees and costs and $1,000 in punitive damages. 

The filing in the Court of Claims comes nearly two months after Wagner's lawyer, Matthew Gronda, wrote to the redistricting commission to demand that it rescind any rules restricting Wagner from submitting new proposed voting district maps if a Dec. 28 group vote failed on the new state House, state Senate and Congressional district maps. 

"Even if plans are adopted for all districts on the initial vote, she further demands that the offending rule be rescinded so as to avoid the perpetuation of an unconstitutional procedure," Gronda wrote Dec. 26. "Should the Commission fail to take these steps, be advised that it is Ms. Wagner’s intent to immediately pursue legal action with the Michigan Supreme Court."

The commission on Dec. 28 passed all of the maps on the first vote so the question of additional map submissions was never broached at the meeting. Gronda never filed suit in relation to the letter. 

Wagner and fellow Republican Rhonda Lange frequently cross swords with the 13-member commission, which is made up of four Republicans, four Democrats, and five members not affiliated with any party. Their most recent complaint related to the commission agreeing to spend about $50,000 to create a "lessons learned" video documentary on the commission's work. 

The commission maps adopted on Dec. 28 are the subject of three different legal challenges.

One filed by the Detroit Caucus in the Michigan Supreme Court was dismissed earlier this month and the Michigan Supreme Court denied a rehearing in the matter Wednesday. 

Another case filed by voter and community advocacy groups earlier this month is awaiting a hearing in the Michigan Supreme Court. A third case filed by several Michigan Republicans in federal district court also is awaiting a hearing.