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Public could pay $10 million for redistricting lawsuits

(AP) Virginia taxpayers could be on the hook for more than $10 million in legal fees related to three redistricting lawsuits.

The state has already paid more than $6 million in legal fees related to the cases, state officials said. Of that, the GOP-led House of Delegates has paid lawyers about $4.5 million defending the map lawmakers drew in 2011 for state legislative and congressional districts.

Those have drawn three legal challenges alleging racial or political gerrymandering: two at a federal level, one at the state.

Last month, a federal court ordered Virginia lawmakers to redraw the state’s electoral map after finding that lawmakers had illegally packed black voters into certain districts to make surrounding districts whiter and more Republican. GOP lawmakers are currently appealing that decision.

Democrats successfully sued in a similar case that led new congressional districts in 2016.

The state Supreme Court earlier this year rejected a challenge alleging several state legislative districts were unconstitutional because they were not compact enough.

Perkins Coie, the law firm that’s represented Democrats in two federal lawsuits, is seeking about $4 million in legal fees and expenses from the state in the case currently being appealed. It’s already been paid more than $800,000 for the other federal case, according to the attorney general’s office.

The Virginia lawsuits are part of a broader legal effort by a Democratic political group to challenge the constitutionality of Republican-drawn maps in more than a dozen states.

The lawsuits are backed by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and former President Barack Obama have helped raise money for the group.

Parker Slaybaugh, a spokesman for GOP House Speaker Kirk Cox, said “out-of-state liberal billionaires” are to blame for the state’s high legal bill.

But Patrick Rodenbush, a spokesman for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said “it was the Republican legislature’s decision to enact unconstitutional district lines in the first place.”

-ALAN SUDERMAN, Associated Press

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