Story from Katy Grimes at the California Globe, Public Records Request Exposes CA Redistricting Commission Secret Meetings
A recent California Public Records Act request by Attorneys Harmeet Dhillon and Michael Columbo (on behalf of California Globe editor Katy Grimes), produced evidence that members of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC) have been holding secret meetings. The public records request was based on concerns raised in a letter from Charles T. Munger to the California Redistricting Commission dated May 7, 2021, as well as an op-ed authored by two former CRC commissioners, Cynthia Dai and Jodie P. Filkins, dated July 14, 2021.
In a Globe interview, attorney Columbo said the CPRA request yielded significant information not made public by the California Redistricting Commission – pages of handwritten notes and discussions, which were not part of regular, noticed redistricting commission meetings.
The redistricting commission provided the documents to the attorneys starting on October 22 and continuing through November 22, producing numerous pages of hand-written redistricting commissioners’ notes regarding redistricting meetings and communications with outside parties that were held in secret, and not during the noticed public CRC meetings documented on the CRC’s website.
Approximately one year ago, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission had a committee meeting on the Voting Rights Act (VRA) compliance. But some were concerned that the committee was keeping statistical analyses on voting patterns by race confidential to use in decisions on district voting lines.
According to the John Locke Foundation, “The Voting Rights Act is not a scheme for racial proportional representation.” They explain:
Based on the notes and CPRA documents, this shows a deliberate strategy of keeping that analysis from the public.
The Dhillon Law Firm filed an Emergency Petition with the California Supreme Court Tuesday.
They are petitioning the court to:
Attorney Columbo shared details of some of the handwritten CRC notes (document below):
“Present VA as example – leg drew distr with 50% afr am w/o checking RPV Was a way to covertly pack afr ams under cover of VRA”
“Matt B[arretto] 2010 RPV analysis kept confidential to deprive opposition of targets to criticize. It remains confidential as long as we want it to be. Work product vs. Bagley-Keene FOIA.”
Additional notes of other commissioners produced by the CRC reveal a similar pattern of nonpublic meetings, including:
Attorney Columbo said the Commission produced Strumwasser & Woocher, LLP’s proposal to serve as the legal representation for the Commission. It stated that it “served as counsel to the California Legislature,” including listing the Legislature among representative clients for “election and political law” matters, and that it had represented the Legislature before the California Supreme Court—most recently in the high profile matter of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association v. Padilla (2016).
The Strumwasser & Woocher proposal also said, “Mr. Woocher has represented the California Legislature, through the Legislative Counsel’s office, and the California State Senate on select matters within the past 10 years. Though the proposal’s description of its relationship to the Legislature suggests the Legislature was a past client, the resume of Mr. Woocher appended to the firm’s proposal stated that he currently “Represents California Legislature.”
The firm also “regularly serves as treasurer and legal counsel to various federal, state, and local political committees and candidates for office,” including “several that have been supported by the California Democratic Party,” but downplayed the further fact that Mr. Woocher is the assistant treasurer for such committee clients as “entirely pro forma.”
The named partners of the firm also disclosed that they (including spouses) have contributed more than $2000 each to Democratic candidates, only. Mr. Woocher disclosed that his other clients included “Congressmembers Katie Porter, Tony Cardenas, Lou Correa, and Nanette Barragan, as well as a number of state and local candidates.” The contract contains, at Exhibit D, a boilerplate prohibition against Strumwasser and Woocher sharing its work product for the CRC or communicating about the CRC’s work with an attorney in the firm working on redistricting or the firm’s political action committee, but imposes no similar limits on the firm’s work for, or communications with, the Legislature, legislators, candidates, and PACs that it represents.
Attorneys Dhillon and Columbo reported that the Supreme Court asked the Citizens Redistricting Commission (the government) to preliminarily respond to the petition by Tuesday, December 7, 2021. The Dhillon Law Firm’s reply must be filed before 3:00 p.m. on Friday, December 10, 2021. The Globe will report any decisions.