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Republican leaders in Louisiana Legislature pay law firm $10K per month for redistricting help

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Paul Braun
/
WRKF

This story was published by the Louisiana Illuminator. You can view the original story here.

Louisiana Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder hired BakerHostetler law firm to provide “redistricting advice” for at least $10,000 per month for three months, according to a contract legislative staff provided Wednesday night in response to a public records request.

If the Louisiana Legislature gets sued over new political maps, BakerHostetler’s fee escalates to at least $60,000 per month, assuming the firm handles the litigation. The firm could also continue to work for the Legislature beyond the initial three-month period, but its fee would have to be renegotiated, according to the contract.

The law firm’s services have been a source of controversy. In its agreement, the firm said it was selected “to be counsel to the Louisiana Senate and House of Representatives,” but most Republicans and all Democrats in Legislature haven’t had access to its attorneys and their expertise. Several Democrats said they weren’t even aware the firm had been hired until they read about the contract in media reports over the weekend.

BakerHostetler has offices throughout the country and extensive experience working on redistricting and election litigation. It is well-known for representing Republicans.

One of the attorneys working on Louisiana’s case, Mark Braden, was the general counsel for the Republican National Committee for 10 years. He is also on the board of the Republican National Lawyers Association, which named him the Republican lawyer of the year in 2014.

Cortez, R-Lafayette, and Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, signed the contract with the law firm on Dec. 15 and Dec. 27 respectively. The firm told the legislative leaders to expect monthly bills for its services, but Louisiana Senate staff said the law firm hasn’t been paid any public money yet.

“No money has been paid to-date,” Yolanda Dixon, secretary of the Louisiana Senate, said in an email Wednesday night.

It’s not clear what funds Cortez and Schexnayder intend to use to pay the firm. Neither could be reached for comment Wednesday night.

Who gets advice?

Some of the contract’s language appears inconsistent with what Cortez previously said the law firm’s role would be. On Tuesday, Cortez told the Senate that BakerHostetler had been hired to deal with lawsuits filed against the Legislature over new political maps it expects to approve this month.

Language in the contract, however, says “redistricting advice” – rather than litigation – is the focus of the current arrangement.

“You’ve asked that we provide the Senate and House with redistricting advice. You have not asked us to perform any other services or functions or assume any other responsibilities,” Kate McKnight, a partner with the law firm, wrote in a letter to Cortez and Schexnayder.

“Should this engagement shift to providing litigation counsel, this adjustable fixed fee will escalate to $60,000 per month,” McKnight wrote.

While McKnight said the law firm expected to provide advice to the Senate and House – which currently have 143 members combined – the contract suggests that the attorneys only expected to interact with four lawmakers.

The law firm conducted an internal conflict of interest review for Cortez, Schexnayder, Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, and Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley. Hewitt and Stefanski are the leaders of the committees that oversee the redistricting process.

That arrangement is likely to draw more scrutiny from Democrats, who believe a law firm hired by the state should provide advice to all legislators and not just those in Republican leadership.

Democrats and civil rights organizations are pushing for new political maps in Louisiana that would increase majority-majority districts at the federal and state governmental levels. Louisiana’s Black residents make up 33% of the state’s population, but majority-Black districts do not account for a third of the state’s political seats.

Democrats seek voter analysis data

Cortez and Schexnayder have not bent to the Democrats’ requests for more minority districts. The Republicans’ maps add no majority-minority seats at any level. Republicans control the Legislature, and they don’t need Democratic support to get new maps approved.

But maps without additional majority-minority districts – like the ones Cortez, Schexnayder, Hewitt and Stefanski have proposed – are likely to draw legal challenges based on federal voting rights laws. Several Democrats welcome those lawsuits, which could lead to court rulings that force lawmakers to draw more majority-minority districts.

This is why the Democrats are now seeking more information from BakerHostetler. Cortez and Hewitt have said the law firm has hired an outside expert to look at racially polarized voting, though Democrats haven’t been given access to any of that information.

Racially polarized voting analyses help determine to what extent voters of different races prefer different candidates. It is instrumental in court cases over federal Voting Rights Act compliance, such as those expected in Louisiana.

Senate Democrats want to review any voting data analysis the law firm has provided. Hewitt said she had discussed racially polarized voting with the law firm, but the expert analysis was inconclusive and no “final report” was ever produced.

When Senate Democrats asked to review any exchanges between Hewitt and the law firm about the analysis, Hewitt responded by saying there was “nothing in writing” about the racially polarized voting review that was conducted. She also didn’t provide the name of the person who looked at the voting data for the law firm, saying she could only remember the analyst was from Stanford University.

Lawyer fee rates

In total, BakerHostetler has six people working on Louisiana’s redistricting: Braden, McKnight, Richard Raile, Patrick Lewis, Robert Tucker and Ericka Prouty. Their hourly rates range from $355 (Prouty) to $915 (Braden) .

Cortez and Schexnayder had requested a flat fee for BakerHostetler’s services, according to the contract, but the law firm pushed back against that proposal a bit. Its staff will charge their hourly rate against the Legislature’s $10,000 per month flat fee. The law firm may also perform a “true up” on the contract after its initial 90 days, which could result in more bills related to redistricting.

BakerHostetler’s $10,000 monthly fee also doesn’t cover a number of ancillary costs, according to the contract. Expenses such as court filing fees and travel costs must be reimbursed above and beyond the $10,000 expenditure every month. Any expert witnesses needed would be an additional expense, and the $10,000 doesn’t include the cost for expensive online services, such as LexisNexis and Westlaw, typically used in litigation.