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Kansas faces big bills in federal redistricting lawsuit

7/13/2012

By JOHN HANNA

By JOHN HANNA

Associated Press

TOPEKA -- Kansas still faces claims it's obligated to cover more than $669,000 in legal bills for parties in a federal redistricting lawsuit, despite an attempt by the judges handling the case to limit the tab.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Thursday some of the latest filings, submitted late Wednesday, are "shameless" and "an attempt to fleece taxpayers."

"I believe some of the parties are seeing this as a cash cow for the attorneys," said Kobach, who is a defendant in the lawsuit because his office oversees elections. "If these fees are awarded, it will create a horrible precedent."

The three federal judges handling the redistricting lawsuit imposed new political boundaries for Kansas' congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts last month because an impasse among majority Republicans prevented the Legislature from completing the task. Now, judges must decide how much of the suing parties' costs must be borne by the state.

"We had no choice but to get into this case," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat involved in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit originally was filed in early May by Robyn Renee Essex, a Republican precinct committee member from Olathe. But the judges allowed 26 other people -- voters, business leaders and key figures in the Legislature's stalemate -- to join Essex.

Nineteen of the 27 plaintiffs filed requests last month seeking to have a total of nearly $700,000 in legal expenses covered by the state. But last week, the judges issued an order imposing narrower rules for such claims and told the parties to submit recalculated requests by midnight Wednesday.

Attorneys for 15 of the individuals responded by the deadline, submitting total requests only 4 percent lower than the previous total.

Some parties' second requests covered additional expenses, including fees associated with preparing court filings about recovering legal fees and responding to the latest order. Attorneys pointed to past court precedents allowing such costs to be covered and described their hourly rates, some exceeding $300 an hour.

In their order last week, the judges told parties to spell out how much of their costs came from presenting specific redistricting proposals in court and how much of those proposals were reflected in the court-drawn political maps.

Plaintiffs had competing interests, and the judges must decide who prevailed in the case, because only those individuals are eligible to have legal expenses covered by the state. The 15 people who filed new requests all claimed to be prevailing parties, arguing the judges adopted key recommendations in drawing new maps.

Three attorneys representing Davis and former state Rep. Bill Roy Jr., a Lenexa Democrat, charged hourly rates of up to $300 and initially filed a request on their clients' behalf to have $86,000 in legal bills covered by the state. Their total grew to $101,000.

The largest total for reimbursement was submitted by a four-member group that included Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Tim Owens, a moderate Overland Park Republican. The group was represented by five attorneys from two Topeka law firms and initially sought to have nearly $188,000 in fees and expenses covered by the state.

But after last week's ruling, the group's attorneys applied a 15-percent discount to their fees and didn't include hours for preparing their recalculated requests. Their new total was approximately $162,000.