TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Just before a judge cleared the courtroom so a GOP operative could testify in secret, lawyers for groups challenging the Legislature’s 2012 congressional map revealed Thursday that a man associated with the plan denied he had anything to do with it.
Alex Posada said under oath in a deposition given Thursday morning that he did not draw the congressional map, did not submit it to the Legislature and did not authorize anyone else to do so on his behalf, a lawyer for a coalition of voting rights groups told The News Service of Florida.
Posada, a former Florida State University student who appeared at one of the Legislature’s public hearings on redistricting in 2012, also swore that he had no knowledge of the email@example.com email account used to deliver the map to the Legislature’s public portal, according to lawyer Vince Falcone, who took Posada’s deposition over the telephone.
The email address was one Posada said “he had never seen, never used, never authorized anybody to use to submit those maps under his name,” Falcone said.
Lawmakers including Senate President Don Gaetz, who in 2012 was in charge of the committee handling the redistricting process, publicly praised the “Posada” map as the footprint for their congressional plan. The map disavowed by Posada on Thursday included several districts identical to those drawn by Republican Party of Florida staffer Frank Terraferma.
Posada later went to work for Strategos Public Affairs, a Tampa-based lobbying firm co-founded by House Speaker Will Weatherford’s brother Drew, after receiving a recommendation from a parish priest, according to Strategos partner Bill Coletti. Weatherford, who was head of the House redistricting committee in 2011 and 2012, said this week he does not know Posada and “has no knowledge of his work.” Posada left the company last summer, Coletti said.
A transcript of Posada’s deposition is expected to be submitted to the court Friday as the trial wraps up its second week. The voting-rights groups, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, and seven voters are challenging the constitutionality of the congressional map. The groups allege that Republican operatives used front men to submit district plans — eventually adopted by the Legislature — intended to favor Republicans, a violation of the Fair Districts constitutional amendments, which bar lawmakers from drawing seats that help incumbents or political parties.
The fact that Florida’s congressional map includes 17 Republican-leaning seats and 10 Democratic-leaning seats although voters are split 50-50 in statewide elections is evidence that the map is highly partisan, lawyers for the plaintiffs argue.
David King, the plaintiffs’ lead lawyer, hinted Thursday at Posada’s deposition while questioning veteran Tallahassee GOP operative Rich Heffley.
King asked Heffley to make a number of assumptions, including that Posada had not drawn or submitted the map or given anyone permission to use his name.
As he had throughout his testimony earlier in the day, Heffley denied that he had drawn any maps or asked anyone else to offer them to the Legislature.
“They’re not my districts. I won’t say what my mom taught me about assuming things but I will tell you that I don’t know Mr. Posada, I have never had anything to do with submitting maps and I don’t know how they got in the public domain,” Heffley said.
Shortly after that, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis cleared the courtroom to allow Heffley to testify privately regarding hundreds of pages of documents entangled in a sidebar legal dispute. Reporters representing four media outlets, The Miami Herald, The Palm Beach Post, the Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press objected before filing out of the courtroom.
“So noted,” Lewis said.
Republican consultant Pat Bainter, his employees and his Gainesville-based consulting firm, Data Targeting, Inc., made an emergency appeal Wednesday to the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to keep the documents from being used in the trial. Bainter also testified behind closed doors Thursday afternoon.
The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a lower court decision and ruled that 538 pages of documents Bainter claims are “confidential materials” could be used in the trial but that the documents and testimony related to them must remain shielded from the public.
Heffley’s public testimony Thursday also revealed more details about secret meetings, email exchanges and map-swapping between Republican Party aides, GOP operatives and legislative staff that has dominated the eight days of testimony thus far. The NAACP, which is defending the maps, and the Legislature will present their witnesses Friday. The trial is expected to wrap up next week.
King grilled Heffley about a December meeting in 2011 at Republican headquarters in Tallahassee attended by Heffley; lawyer Ben Ginsberg, a nationally renowned attorney involved with redistricting and who is closely linked with the Republican National Committee; Bainter; GOP consultant Marc Reichelderfer; House aides Alex Kelly and Kirk Pepper; and Gaetz’s chief of staff, Chris Clark, among others. Heffley and others also met later with Weatherford and Gaetz.
King asked if Heffley, who was also involved in redistricting in 1992 and 2002, discussed his “privilege as a political operative so you could work with staff without your conversations becoming public?”
Heffley said he did not recall “that specific discussion” but that the two meetings concerned “the rules of the road” regarding the Fair District amendments.
“We were told to comply with the law and be careful with what we did because intent was the lynchpin” of the amendments, Heffley said. “What we did was try to find out what was appropriate communication.”
King also questioned Heffley about maps he received from Terraferma, sometimes late at night, and about a meeting he had at RPOF headquarters, where Heffley’s office is located, with Pepper, who last week admitted that he provided copies of the Legislature’s maps to Reichelderfer. Terraferma sent Weatherford an e-mail telling him about the meeting.
“If Frank was working for me, what’s he doing tattling that I was having a conversation with Kirk Pepper? It’s just kind of interesting,” Heffley said Thursday.
Heffley said he did not remember discussing the maps — which GOP operatives dubbed “Frankenstein,” “Sputnik” and “Schmedloff” — or districts with Pepper.
“Frank surmised something by seeing me standing and Kirk Pepper sitting in the conference room. It was very odd that Kirk Pepper, who was working for the Legislature, must have taken a day off, must have been doing something that he would be at our offices, at Republican Party headquarters offices, sitting at a conference table at a computer,” Heffley said. “I would find it very strange that he was there, which was probably what I talked to him about.”
This report is by Dara Kam with The News Service of Florida.