Louisiana legislature paid outright $78,000 for ‘redistricting advice’

An out-of-state law firm billed the Louisiana Legislature $78,081 for providing “redistricting advice,” according to a bill released after a public records request. It is unclear when the law firm performed the work and what type of services it provided.

The legislature issued a bill that only provides the lump sum the law firm charges the state for assistance on new political maps. There is no itemized list of expenses on the publicly available bill, such as individual attorneys’ billable hours or a breakdown of what portion of the bill might have been spent on attorneys’ travel.

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The publicly available invoice also does not detail a range of months or specific dates during which the law firm carried out its work. The legislature received the bill on March 14 and it must be paid by April 14. Money that Louisiana earns from taxpayers and state fees will be used to cover the cost.

“That doesn’t make much sense to me,” Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, said after hearing a description of the BakerHostetler bill that legislative staff released. “I would hope that anything we do in the Senate would come with a detailed list.”

Senate Speaker Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, hired the law firm on behalf of the Legislative Assembly in December to help the state’s new political maps to resist lawsuits from civil rights organizations. Management has been secretive about the company’s work.

Most of the 103 state lawmakers didn’t know a law firm had been hired until weeks after its contract went into effect. Only four Republican lawmakers — those working on the maps favored by Cortez and Schexnayder — had access to attorneys during the redistricting process.

The Republican-controlled legislature has approved maps that do not increase the number of majority black districts in Louisiana, either at the congressional or state level, even though the percentage of Louisiana residents who s ‘identify as a minority increases.

Civil rights groups have filed multiple lawsuits against Louisiana congressional and legislative cards on the grounds that they violate federal voting rights law by intentionally undermining the influence of black voters.

BakerHostetler is expected to defend the Legislative Assembly in these lawsuits. The firm has represented GOP interests in redistricting and election litigation across the country.

One of BakerHostetler’s attorneys assigned to the Louisiana case is Mark Braden, former general counsel for the Republican National Committee for a decade and a board member of the National Republican Lawyers Association.

The law firm’s December contract with the legislature was specific about the type of expenses that could be expected, though the published invoice contained few details about the actual charges.

BakerHostetler planned to bill the Legislature at least $10,000 a month for three months, and the charges would increase to $60,000 a month once the state was sued over the cards, which happened for the first time in February. The six BakerHostetler attorneys working on the Louisiana redistricting case would charge rates ranging from $355 to $915 an hour, depending on the law firm’s contract.

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The company also had to charge beyond its monthly fee of $10,000 or $60,000 for incidental expenses. These include court filing fees, travel, expert witnesses and online services such as LexisNexis and Westlaw.

It is unclear what attorney fees and incidental fees were included in the $78,000 billed by the law firm, as the published invoice does not include an itemized list of fees.

Cortez said last month that the law firm had hired at least one outside expert to look into Louisiana’s racially polarized voting, though it’s unclear how much that expert cost the state. This expense was also not broken down on BakerHostetler’s publicly available invoice. Legislative leaders also declined to publicly share the name of the person or people who worked on the analysis, so it’s unclear what kind of rate might have been on the table.

Racially biased vote analyzes help determine the extent to which voters of different races prefer different candidates. He is instrumental in court cases regarding compliance with federal voting rights law, such as those filed in Louisiana.

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Democratic lawmakers said the public should have more details about the law firm’s specific expenses covered by public funds.

“Most bills are not shared with members of the Senate as a matter of course,” Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, said in a text message Thursday. “However, in this situation involving this controversial legislation and the circumstances surrounding their hiring process, it is likely in the best interest of everyone involved that there is transparency and that details are provided to members.”

BakerHostetler could also renegotiate his contract with the legislature. The law firm’s initial deal with Schexnayder and Cortez was signed in December and only lasts three months. This allowed the law firm and lawmakers to review the terms of the arrangement by the end of March.

Cortez and Schexnayder could not be reached for comment Thursday.

– The Louisiana Illuminator is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization driven by its mission to shed light on how decisions are made in Baton Rouge and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianans , especially those who are poor or otherwise marginalized.

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