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Affidavit: GOP got rid of redistricting files

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – An affidavit filed in federal court this week said documents were deleted from state redistricting computers last year even after lawmakers’ aides were told to preserve all records.

The filing raises the possibility that Republican officials or their lawyers could face sanctions from the panel of three federal judges overseeing the case, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Nine hard drives had been handed over to groups suing the state to help settle questions about whether legislators and their attorneys complied with an order to turn over all relevant documents. One hard drive was unreadable and appeared to have been tampered with, while others had an advanced file-deleting program installed on them, the affidavit said.

Tom Pyper, an attorney representing the Legislature, said any information deletion would have taken place in the normal course of using state computers, and the Legislature wasn’t required to preserve documents after June, when the groups dropped an appeal in the case.

The technician reviewing the computers said he hopes to recover at least some of the deleted documents.

The court filings could represent high stakes for Republican lawmakers and Michael Best & Friedrich, the firm they hired help draw the latest election maps in 2011. The court has already criticized the way the firm handled the case, at one point ordering its lawyers to pay about $17,500 for filing frivolous motions in trying to block the release of documents.

States draw new maps for legislative and congressional districts every 10 years to account for population shifts and changes. Republicans who controlled the Legislature in 2011 used their power to draw lines that benefited their party.

A group of Democrats and a Hispanic-rights group sued, claiming the new maps disenfranchised minorities by separating them into different districts, diluting their voting power. The panel of federal judges agreed last year that two Assembly districts in Milwaukee were drawn in a way that violated the voting rights of Latinos.

Those two maps were adjusted, but the rest of the Republican-friendly maps were preserved.

After the ruling, the plaintiffs identified 55 documents that should have been turned over to them but never were. The judges concluded that “some form of ‘fraud, misrepresentation, or misconduct’ likely occurred” and ordered the state last month to turn over the computers so plaintiffs could examine them.

Forensic examiner Mark Lanterman determined that documents had been deleted in June, July and November. He also found some of the computers contained software meant to delete files in a way that renders them unrecoverable.

Lanterman said he’d need at least two months to fully review the computers and determine whether they contained records that should have been handed over. The plaintiffs have until Friday to report their findings, but they filed an extension request with the court Wednesday.

The Legislature hired Michael Best to help draw the maps, and the three state computers used in the redistricting process were moved to the law firm’s Madison office to do the work. According to the firm, the computers were returned to the state around March.

In a recent letter to the plaintiffs, Pyper, the Legislature’s new attorney, wrote that the computers were reconnected to the state network in May or June, and that “information deletion would have taken place in the normal course” of using them.

He also wrote that the Legislature wasn’t required to preserve documents after June, when an appeal of the court’s findings on the maps was dropped. But the plaintiffs argue that the Legislature was obligated to retain all documents.

Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com

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