State will likely foot bill for much of redistricting battle

Posted: Friday, June 14, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- The state could spend more than $3 million on legal costs associated with redrawing Alaska's election district lines.

The law firm that represented the Alaska Redistricting Board has billed about $900,000 since the board started its work last spring. And those who sued the board have submitted legal bills totaling $2.5 million.

It's likely the state will have to pay a big chunk of those bills, say lawyers on both sides of the case.

The state is required to reimburse people who are considered ''public-interest litigants'' for their fees, as long as they win part of their case, said Philip Volland, the attorney who represented the board.

''We expect to get most, if not all, of it,'' said Michael White, who represented state Republican Party officials in their suit against the board.

Election lines must be redrawn every 10 years to reflect shifts in population. The five-member Redistricting Board faced nine legal challenges over its election district plan, which initially would have pitted 20 Republican incumbents against each other.

Plaintiffs included individuals, as well as the cities of Anchorage, Valdez, Wasilla, Cordova and Craig, and the Aleutians East and Lake and Peninsula boroughs.

The case went to the Alaska Supreme Court, which required the board to redo much of the map.

Courts are expected to decide within a couple of weeks how much the state has to reimburse those who sued, Volland said.

The biggest bill is from the Republican Party officials, who spent $1.4 million in attorney fees and costs.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner has ruled out about $190,000 of that, which was to pay for expert witness costs, but White said he expects most of the remaining fees to be paid.

Volland said he contested probably 30 percent of the Republican Party officials' fees as being excessive for one reason or another. He has acknowledged, though, that they are public interest litigants.

People can be considered public interest litigants if they sue the state over issues that affect the public at large, and they are not seeking personal monetary benefit.

The Legislature had earlier this year balked at paying Volland's fees because Republican majority lawmakers were angry about the plan the Redistricting Board drew up.

At the end of the session in May, though, the Legislature approved $2.8 million for redistricting legal bills. Majority lawmakers attached language to the funding, mandating that those who sued the state be paid first, and Volland's firm be paid if there's enough money left.

Volland said the funding should be sufficient to cover all the legal costs. He was already paid $635,000, so the state only owed him $267,190 as of May 20.

The Legislative Budget and Audit Committee has to approve the payment of Volland's bill.

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