AP NEWS

Judges work through pretrial challenges in remapping suit

March 25, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A judicial panel on Monday ruled that North Carolina Republican legislators can avoid testifying for an upcoming redistricting trial over state legislative maps.

But the three judges also ruled that some of the lawmakers can’t change their minds on seeing that protection now. And they said the GOP lawmakers sued by Democrats and election reform advocates still must respond further to written questions from the plaintiffs about how boundaries were drawn and by whom.

The judges issued a protective order that would keep a dozen current or former legislators and staff from being deposed heading toward a July 15 trial.

GOP defendants had cited legislative privilege and immunity in their refusal filed last month. But days before a court hearing, two key lawmakers — GOP Rep. David Lewis and Sen. Ralph Hise — said they now wished to no longer assert the privilege.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, which include Common Cause and the state Democratic Party, argued this last-minute switch by the lawmakers would harm their case.

The judges agreed, writing that although the privilege served as a “shield to prevent discovery,” the changing positions for Hise and Lewis “would provide an unfair benefit to legislative defendants and impose an unfair detriment” on the plaintiffs. Therefore, the judges wrote, the privilege would cover the 12 lawmakers and staff.

The panel also directed the lawmakers to respond in full in six areas where the plaintiffs want information, including the identities of each person who helped draw the legislative districts enacted in 2017 and the lawyers and consultants who provided advice.

Those who sued contend House and Senate maps approved in 2017 violate the state constitution because of excessive pro-Republican bias.