Herald-Leader Editorial

Legislature must pay legal fees of challengers who overturned unconstitutional redistricting

Legislature must pay for challengers

August 15, 2012 

It's not exactly a case of doing the crime, then doing the time. But it's close, darn close. Call it doing the crime, then paying the fine.

The "crime" was an unconstitutional legislative redistricting plan House Democrats and Senate Republicans collaborated on during this year's General Assembly. The "fine" is the amount of attorneys' fees the Legislative Research Commission will have to pay for House Republicans and Democratic Sen. Kathy Stein of Lexington, who successfully challenged the plan in court.

In early February, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled the redistricting plan lawmakers approved in January was unconstitutional because it split more counties than necessary and exceeded the permissible population variance for complying with the U.S. Constitution's "one person, one vote" mandate. Just a couple of weeks later, the state Supreme Court upheld Shepherd's ruling.

Last week, Shepherd ruled that the LRC would have to pay an as yet unspecified amount of the attorneys' fees for House Republicans and Stein. As could be expected, House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President David Williams did not embrace the news gladly.

Both recalled House Republicans' vow, when they initiated the lawsuit, to raise the money to pay their legal fees privately. And Williams even got in a dig at Shepherd, saying through a spokeswoman he is not surprised "when Judge Shepherd takes a swipe at the General Assembly."

While it is true House Republicans said at the outset of the redistricting case they would cover their costs with private donations, they didn't sue the LRC. Just as they must bear full responsibility for passage of an unconstitutional plan, Stumbo, Williams and their fellow majority leaders in the House and Senate are responsible for the LRC intervention in the lawsuit, effectively committing the General Assembly's resources in opposition to a suit brought by members of the General Assembly.

If Stumbo, Williams and colleagues had paid for the LRC's legal fees with private donations or out of their own pockets, they would have good reason to criticize House Republicans. But they didn't. Stumbo and Williams jointly made a bilateral decision to pay those costs with money from the legislative budget. (The decision came after they suffered the embarrassment of failing to get enough votes for approval of the payment from the LRC, which is comprised of the majority and minority leadership of both houses. Those things can happen when you don't get all the majority leaders of each chamber to show up at an LRC meeting.)

Since Stumbo, Williams and crew brought the LRC (and in the process, the legislative budget) into this fray, they have no grounds to criticize House Republicans and Stein, the victors in the case, for asking that the LRC pay their legal fees as well.

After Shepherd's initial ruling in the redistricting case and after the Supreme Court upheld it, Stumbo, Williams and some other members of the majority leadership in both houses demonstrated all the graceless traits of stereotypical sore losers who have only themselves to blame. Stumbo and Williams repeated that performance after the ruling on attorneys' fees.

As for Williams' "swipe" at Shepherd, since he became Senate president, Williams has had lawyers argue his side of constitutional issues before multiple Franklin Circuit Court judges and before multiple configurations of the Supreme Court and has a consistent record of losing. Enough so that he really should stop smarting off about particular members of the judiciary and start accepting the responsibility for being just plain wrong.

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