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Top lawmakers subpoenaed in Mich. gerrymandering suit

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Attorney Mark Brewer, former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, last week served subpoenas on dozens of key state lawmakers and officials as part of an ongoing lawsuit alleging Republicans discriminated against some voters by drawing political maps to benefit GOP candidates.

The subpoenas seek internal documents related to the 2011 redistricting process from top legislators like former Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, former House Speaker Jase Bolger and former Rep. Pete Lund, who chaired the House Elections Committee when the maps were drawn, according to multiple sources, some of whom were subpoenaed.

Brewer is also seeking records from GOP Gov. Rick Snyder, former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostak and even a handful of Democratic lawmakers, including former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer and former House Speaker Richard Hammell, according to the sources.

“An important part of these redistricting cases, these gerrymandering cases across the country is what happened in the legislative process,” Brewer said, noting the U.S. Supreme Court is considering related cases out of Wisconsin and Maryland. “What was the intent of the Legislature? One of the ways to do that is to gather this evidence through subpoenas.”

Brewer declined to say who all was served subpoenas, but Lansing sources say he cast a wide net.

“Mark Brewer knocked on my door,” said Bob LaBrant, a former attorney with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce who has a long history as a GOP redistricting expert. “I got myself out of bed, in my pajamas, shook his hand and said, ‘I hope I don’t give you the flu.’”

Brewer first warned of the subpoenas more than a year ago, when he sent letters to various lawmakers and officials demanding they preserve any documents related to the last redistricting process that followed the 2010 U.S. Census.

He officially sued the state in December on behalf of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Michigan, individual Democratic voters and two former lawmakers. The initial complaint alleges Republican-led “gerrymandering” diluted the power of votes from Democrats across the state by splitting them up into strong GOP districts or packing them into fewer winnable areas.

Republicans congressional candidates won between 45.6 percent and 50.5 percent of the statewide vote totals in 2012, 2014 and 2016 but won nine out of 14 seats each year, according to the suit. GOP state Senate candidates won 50.4 percent of the statewide vote in 2014 but won 71.1 percent of the seats. They won 50.3 percent of state House votes in 2016 but control 63 out of 100 seats, or 57.3 percent.

Lund, who said he did not personally receive a subpoena but believed House attorneys may have on his behalf, said the lawsuit lacks merit.

“If you can’t win at the polls, try to win in court,” he said, suggesting Republicans have built and maintained majorities because they had better candidates. “We followed the law to the ‘t.’ It’s just amazing how the Democrats keep getting mad that they don’t know how to run campaigns.”

A spokesman confirmed the House received subpoenas in the case but declined comment. Additional recipients included former and current House and Senate staffers, including Brian Began and Terry Marquardt, along with organizations like the Michigan Republican Party.

The subpoenas seek any documentation on redistricting plans that took effect in 2012, related data or communication documents, any notes or payments to attorneys or other vendors. Brewer is also seeking any correspondence between lawmakers and the Republican State Leadership Committee, which led a national redistricting effort dubbed project “REDMAP,” and operative Thomas Hofeller.

Attorney Pete Ellsworth, who is representing Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, said he was not surprised that Brewer pursued subpoenas.

Ellworth recently filed a motion to “stay” the Michigan lawsuit and effectively put it on hold until the Supreme Court rules in the Wisconsin and Maryland cases, which allege Republican and Democratic gerrymanders, respectively.

“They’ll probably be out with a decision sometime in June,” Ellsworth said. “It doesn’t make sense to start this case when we don’t even know what the standards are or even if these kind of cases can be heard by a federal court.”

Ellsworth was personally subpoenaed in the case, he said, noting that he and a few other colleagues in the Dickinson Wright law firm provided legal advice to legislators when the maps were drawn. He plans to assert attorney-client privilege.

Republican lawmakers will likely fight the subpoenas. They did so last year in a separate lawsuit over a suspended ban on straight-ticket voting, arguing “legislative privilege” under state laws designed to protect the deliberative process. A magistrate judge ordered lawmakers to disclose communications with outside sources but shielded their internal discussions.