Funding uncertain for redistricting lawyer expenses

Posted: Friday, March 22, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- When attorney Philip Volland defended the state's redistricting plan before the Alaska Supreme Court last week, he was working without pay.

The Legislative Affairs Agency has stopped paying his bills, saying the board's budget for legal expenses has run out.

Volland could not be reached for comment Thursday, but his law partner, Scott Taylor, said the firm will continue representing the board.

''We have an ethical and constitutional duty to represent the board,'' Taylor said. ''How the board pays our contract is not our immediate concern.''

Taylor said he assumes the board will ask the Legislature for funding through its supplemental budget process.

The board has done so, but a key GOP lawmaker indicated there is reluctance to approve the request.

The map approved by the Redistricting Board generally favored Democrats and pitted 20 Republican incumbents against each other.

The two Republican appointees to the five-member Redistricting Board voted against the map and also voted against approving a $315,000 contract extension for the law firm defending it.

Sen. Dave Donley, who co-chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, said it's unclear whether the Legislature will fund the extension.

''I can tell you there have been some concerns expressed,'' said Donley, a Republican from Anchorage. ''I think there's a lot of respect for the two board members who disagreed with it.''

The Republican Party of Alaska is one of nine parties that sued the Redistricting Board over the plan. The Legislative Council, voting along party lines, approved spending $250,000 last year to help the legal challenge.

Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner ruled in February that two of the 40 districts drawn by the board are invalid. The Supreme Court ruled on the case on Thursday.

Pam Varni, executive director for the Legislative Affairs Agency, faxed Volland an ''urgent'' letter March 14, the day before he was to argue the board's case before the Supreme Court. She said his contract had expired and bills he had submitted exceeded what was authorized.

''We will not be paying these, or any subsequent bills, as you have been fully paid the amount allowed under the contract,'' Varni wrote.

The state has paid the law firm $635,000 so far, which Varni said was the maximum allowed under the firm's contract. Since then Volland and Taylor sent another bill of $167,000 for work performed through Feb. 20.

The Redistricting Board in February approved an amendment to Volland's contract to exceed the $635,000 by another $315,000 and to extend the contract through June 30, Varni said. But the contract was contingent upon the board receiving supplemental funding from the Legislature.

That supplemental funding has not been approved so far, and Varni said she will not pay the bills until the supplemental is approved.

Bert Sharp of Fairbanks was one of the Redistricting Board members who voted against extending the law firm's contract.

''I just thought it was a little excessive, and I still had problems authorizing money beyond what we had because who knows what the Legislature is going to do. They're not happy with the results (the plan) anyway,'' Sharp said.

Sharp and Michael Lessmeier, who were appointed by Republican legislative leaders, opposed extending the contract, and opposed the plan itself. Democrat Gov. Tony Knowles' appointees, Vicki Otte and Julian Mason, and Chief Justice Dana Fabe's appointee, Leona Okakok, voted in favor of the plan and in favor of authorizing more legal expenses.

Taylor, the attorney, said his firm had an obligation to continue representing the Redistricting Board, despite the delay in payment.

''I don't think we have a choice,'' Taylor said. ''The constitution requires that the board have independent counsel, and the board hired us as their independent counsel.''

A 1998 constitutional amendment, supported by Republicans, requires the Redistricting Board to be made up members appointed by the governor, the Legislature and the Supreme Court chief justice. That constitutional amendment also called for the board to be represented by independent counsel.

In previous redistricting battles, the board was appointed entirely by the governor and was represented by the attorney general's office.

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