Newby targeted again in redistricting case

Oct. 15, 2013 @ 09:52 PM

RALEIGH — Opponents of the new boundaries for North Carolina General Assembly and congressional seats are again asking the state Supreme Court to force an associate justice to recuse himself from coming arguments on the maps' legality.

For the second time in less than a year, lawyers for Democratic voters as well as civil rights and other election advocacy groups have filed a motion seeking to force Associate Justice Paul Newby out of hearing the case.

The motion's authors argue that previous court rulings and the judicial conduct code require Newby to withdraw from the case. A Republican group interested in retaining the maps approved by the legislature in 2011 gave more than $1 million to another group that in turn donated money to support Newby's 2012 re-election.

The justices denied a similar request last December as the state's highest court weighed in on a conflict involving whether certain redistricting documents were protected by attorney-client privilege.

In July, a panel of three Superior Court judges upheld the constitutionality of the maps following a trial, rejecting arguments that they were drawn to weaken the political weight of black voters. The new boundaries enabled Republicans last year to pad their majorities in the state House and Senate and hold nine of the state's 13 U.S. House seats.

Attorneys opposing the maps contend that removing Newby from the legal discussions is even more important now that the state Supreme Court will hear the appeal of the rulings of the three-judge panel. The maps, if upheld, are expected to be used through the 2020 elections.

"The legal principles and policy concerns requiring Justice Newby's recusal in this appeal weigh even more heavily" than the prior recusal request, the lawyers wrote the justices late last week.

At issue is the Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington-based group interested in redistricting. State campaign finance records show the RSLC gave nearly $1.2 million to the Justice for All NC PAC, an independent expenditure group backing Newby. The PAC, in turn, sent nearly $1.5 million to a "super PAC" that ran advertising building up Newby's name recognition.

Newby defeated Court of Appeals Judge Sam Ervin IV, the grandson of the legendary U.S. senator who presided over the Watergate hearings, last November for another eight-year term. While judicial races are officially nonpartisan, Newby is a registered Republican and Ervin is a Democrat. Four of the Supreme Court's seven members are Republicans.

Tom Hofeller, who was identified in the redistricting trial as the chief architect of the 2011 North Carolina maps, also was retained by the RSLC to work on boundaries to favor the GOP in North Carolina and other states, the motion says.

"Where circumstances surrounding the recent election campaign have led to public questioning of the impartiality of the court's ruling in a specific case pending before it, Justice Newby should recuse himself from further proceedings in this matter," the 45-page motion read.

Newby said during the 2012 election he didn't read press reports about donations and said his first term on the court shows he won't be influenced by outside groups.

When the first recusal motion was filed last year, private attorneys representing leaders of the Republican-controlled legislature in redistricting said the outside spending didn't mean Newby's fairness should be doubted. They said the recusal standard offered by the other side was unworkable and would require extensive research by court members to find out who gave to which group.

The most recent motion was filed on the same day the attorneys turned in more than 300 pages of documents explaining why the maps should be struck down. State attorneys are expected to provide their own briefs. No date has been set on oral arguments by the Supreme Court.