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State ordered to pay fees in redistricting litigation

They don’t seem to be interested in doing that, however.

BagOfMoney

In a scolding tone, a federal appeals court panel in Washington, D.C., ordered the state of Texas on Tuesday to pay more than $1 million in attorneys’ fees in a case challenging district boundaries drawn by the Republican-led Legislature.

First under the direction of then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and now under Attorney General Ken Paxton, the state has been fighting a court order for more than a year to pay the lawyers who battled the state over the issuance of redistricting maps for the Texas House, Texas Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

A spokeswoman for Paxton, Cynthia Meyer, didn’t specify the state’s next steps. In an email, she said only: “This decision is disappointing for the state of Texas.”

A group of Hispanic Texans suing the state known as the “Gonzales intervenors” expects to take nearly $600,000 of the $1 million-plus in ordered fees from the state. A group that was led by former state Sen. Wendy Davis and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, both Fort Worth Democrats, should be awarded $466,680, and the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches is owned $32,374, according to the court. The groups argued that boundaries were drawn to dilute the voting power of Hispanics and African-Americans.

Attorney Chad Dunn, a lawyer for the Davis group, said that he and other lawyers have repeatedly asked the attorney general’s office to pay the fees — only to be stonewalled, even in the face of a court order, issued in June 2014.

“If you or I or anybody else had done that, we would lose,” Dunn said. “What the D.C. Circuit has made clear is that Texas has to follow the same rules as any other litigant.”

Judge Patricia Millett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit admonished the state for its refusal to file the proper documents, and the court seemed to chide the state’s lawyers for filing an incomplete advisory.

By not following the rules, Texas has limited its options, the court said.

“(T)he district court held that Texas had conceded virtually all of the issues relevant to the motions for attorneys’ fees by deliberately choosing not to address them,” the court said. “Rejecting Texas’ cursory ‘Advisory’ argument, the district court granted the motions and awarded fees.”

[…]

The appeals court opinion comes a year after U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer’s order that criticized lawyers in Abbott’s office for submitting a legal brief that devoted more effort to complaining than answering the legal issues in the fight over lawyer fees.

“This matter presents a case study in how not to respond to a motion for attorney fees and costs,” Collyer, appointed by former President George W. Bush, said in the June 2014 order.

A spokeswoman for Abbott said at the time that Texas shouldn’t be made to pay other parties’ legal fees in a case the state considers that it won.

I guess that’s one way to get out of an order you don’t like. Just declare yourself the actual winner of the case, and thus not subject to any orders about attorneys’ fees. SCOTUSBlog has a succinct explanation of why Texas’ position was erroneous, at the end of a much longer discussion of overall case:

In June 2014, U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer in Washington ruled that the three groups of challengers were entitled to recover their attorney fees expenses from Texas. The filing by the state’s lawyers, the judge wrote, “fails to recognize that the limited holding of Shelby County did not resolve the issues here.”

It was not the court’s duty, the judge added, to ask Texas to come up with some reasons to oppose the attorney fee requested. “Texas has had every chance to oppose the fees and costs that the applicants seek,” she added, but “it instead opted to file a three-page advisory that ignored every argument of applicants except the applicability of Shelby County.”

Under local court rules, the judge found, Texas had forfeited its right to oppose the fee award because of its failure to make an argument against it. Finding the voters and officeholders to have prevailed, she awarded one group $597,715.60 in fee recovery, another group $466,680.36, and the third $32,374.05 — for a total just under $1.1 million. Those amounts, the judge ruled, were reasonable.

At Texas’s request, Judge Collyer put her order on hold so that the state could appeal.

That appeal ended on Tuesday, with the D.C. Circuit upholding the fee awards, concluding that the Supreme Court’s June 2013 order did not settle the Texas redistricting case and did not resolve who would be the “prevailing party” in that case.

The Justices’ order, the panel said, was like many others in similar cases. All that the Court meant by that action, the decision added, was that there had been intervening developments that might suggest a need for the lower court to reconsider. This was not a ruling on the redistricting dispute, according to the panel, and it added: “It certainly did not declare Texas the victor.”

So there you go. As far as getting the state to quit making stuff up and pay its bills, I have an idea for how to get Ken Paxton’s attention, if it pleases the court: Just threaten to hold him in contempt of court. Recent history suggests that he will move quickly to comply with whatever you order, whatever it takes to stay out of the pokey. Just a suggestion, no pressure or anything.

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