Tensions rise in La. redistricting session over outside contract
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Leaders in Louisiana’s House of Representatives and Senate contracted an outside law firm for help with redistricting, records show.
Now, some lawmakers want to know why it appears the firm’s involvement was only known to a select few.
WAFB-TV obtained a copy of an engagement letter with BakerHostetler. It shows the firm was retained at a price of $10,000 each month. An additional $60,000 monthly fee would be required if the legislature required certain additional services.
It shows Senate President Patrick Page Cortez (R - Lafayette) and Speaker of the House Clay Schexnayder (R - Gonzales) hired the firm in December of 2021.
The scope of the work listed includes, “redistricting advice.” The letter lays out that BakerHostetler was not asked to “perform any of services or functions or assume any other responsibilities.”
BakerHostetler performed a “conflict of interest review” on Schexnayder and Cortez, in addition to two Republican lawmakers leading redistricting efforts in each chamber, the letter shows.
That’s John Stefanski (R - District 42), the chair of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee. Also, Sharon Hewitt (R - District 1), who leads redistricting efforts in the Senate.
Hewitt has acknowledged that she consulted with a BakerHostetler attorney. She noted that a lawyer from the firm suggested the Republican drawn maps complied with federal voting rights laws.
Democrats questioned if their maps had been shown to the lawyers, leading to a heated exchange on the floor Tuesday, Feb. 8, between Hewitt and Karen Carter Peterson (D - District 5).
“There’s a process in redistricting. And, when lawyers get hired and are paid for by the state of Louisiana, the body that I’ve served in for 20 years, then I’m entitled to the same advice about an important issue like redistricting to represent all of the people,” said Peterson. “Why haven’t I had access to [the lawyer].”
Republican leaders have not disclosed how BakerHostetler is being paid.
If the money is coming from state funds, that could potentially entitle other lawmakers to utilize the firm’s services, according to Peterson’s argument.
The letter also does not detail where the money used to pay the firm is coming from.
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