Commissioner Sought To Oversee 3 Ohio Redistricting Suits

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Attorneys in two of three lawsuits brought against Ohio's newly drawn maps of legislative districts asked the state's high court Monday to appoint a master commissioner to oversee the disputes.

Lawyers for voters represented by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative told the Ohio Supreme Court the special oversight is needed to resolve discovery disputes among three separate legal teams that have sued and lawyers for members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

The suits allege some overlapping and some separate violations of the Ohio Constitution by the panel, which was forced to pass four-year maps along party lines because majority Republicans failed to reach agreement with the panel's two Democrats. The panel's GOP members defend the maps of Ohio House and Ohio Senate as fair and constitutional.

They are predicted to continue to deliver supermajorities to Republicans in both chambers, though the state's partisan breakdown is roughly 54% Republicans, 46% Democrats.

In their Monday filing, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee's attorneys said that they have made good-faith efforts to work out disputes with fellow lawyers but that “it is already clear that some disputes are fundamental and will be unresolvable.”

Disagreements became apparent after a meeting on Friday, they said. Among areas where lawyers are at odds are whether members of the redistricting panel can be deposed, whether they must answer written questions and whether third parties can be questioned or asked to produce evidence.

The suits are the first to be brought under amendments to the Ohio Constitution that were approved overwhelmingly by the state's voters in 2015.

The seven-member high court, made up of four Republicans and three Democrats, has exclusive jurisdiction in resolving redistricting disputes. It has set an expedited schedule for hearing the three cases, culminating in oral arguments Dec. 8.

Lawyers for the organizing collaborative told the court that attorneys for Republican commissioners, including Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Auditor Keith Faber, have interpreted the expedited schedule to preclude discovery, and so are refusing to allow questioning of commission members or production of documents without a court order.

“Although respondents expressed a willingness to reach a compromise on terms satisfactory to them, no compromise was reached nor realistically can be reached so long as respondents contend that they have no legal obligation to respond to any discovery whatsoever,” they said.

The third suit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the A. Philip Randolph Institute and individual voters.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine has said he will not recuse himself, despite his father, the governor, being a member of the redistricting panel being sued. Both DeWines are Republicans.