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Tue Jan 29, 2013, 04:27 PM

Senate hires new law firm in redistricting case


Madison - Republican Senate leaders hired a new law firm Monday in the ongoing legal fight over redistricting - a move that means taxpayers will have to spend more on a case that has already cost them about $1.9 million.

Republicans approved hiring Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek just three days after the plaintiffs in the case subpoenaed officials so that they could search state computers and external hard drives. The plaintiffs want to search the computers because attorneys for the Legislature did not turn over some records in the case that they were required to. For months, the plaintiffs have been trying to ascertain why the records were not released and whether there are other records that are yet to be turned over.

Whyte Hirschboeck has already been doing work for the Legislative Technology Services Bureau, the arm of the Legislature that oversees computers and email for lawmakers. With Monday's action, the firm will also perform work for the Senate itself, taking direction from Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau).

Hiring the firm was approved on a 3-2, party-line vote by the Senate Organization Committee.

The Republicans did not put any limits in place on how much the firm will be paid.

Every 10 years, states must draw new lines for legislative and congressional districts to account for changes in population. Republicans controlled all of Wisconsin's state government in 2011 and were able to draw lines that will greatly help them in elections over the next decade.

A group of Democrats and the immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera sued the state, and a special panel of three federal judges ruled in March that two Assembly districts on Milwaukee's south side violated the voting rights of Latinos. The judges altered those two maps but left the others alone, keeping the GOP advantage in place.

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