SARASOTA –– With no vote and minimal discussion, Sarasota County commissioners directed their attorney to proceed as normal and attempt to recover costs from the losing parties in the redistricting litigation.
County Attorney Rick Elbrecht told commissioners Wednesday that it is normal practice for his office to recommend that the county attempt to collect litigation costs from the losing parties.
The recoverable costs in the case, about $20,000, represented the funds spent for court reporters and transcripts, Elbrecht said.
Two weeks ago, Judge William Jung of the federal district court in Tampa dismissed the final count in the lawsuit brought by three residents of Newtown alleging that racial discrimination was the motive in commissioners decision last year to move Newtown from District 1 into District 2.
That change favored incumbent Commissioner Mike Moran, a Republican. Under the new single-member district voting system in place this year, Democrats saw a chance to capture this seat since District 1 had a majority of Democrats over Republicans.
Changing the boundaries switched that dynamic.
“There is simply no record of evidence that the main driver of this was skin color, rather than simple political gerrymandering and ‘hardball’ partisan incumbent protection,” Jung wrote in his 31-page opinion bringing an end to the litigation.
Calling the litigation frivolous and insulting, Commissioner Nancy Detert said, “We were called racists. They shouldn’t be surprised to hear we want to recover taxpayer dollars.”
Detert was one of the three commissioners to vote in favor of the new map that moved Newtown from one district to another. Only Commissioners Charles Hines and Christian Ziegler voted against the change.
Interviewed by the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Hugh Culverhouse, one of the attorneys for the three plaintiffs called the notion of the county seeking to recover these costs ridiculous, adding it was the wrong action to take in the middle of a pandemic.
Andy Bardos, an attorney with the GrayRobinson law firm in Tampa that represented the county, will now file the appropriate paperwork with the federal court seeking judgement against the plaintiffs.