Redistricting case’s attorneys’ fees

Don’t punish taxpayers for lawmakers’ failure

By Walt Braun

With regard to requests for payment of roughly $622,000 in attorneys’ fees stemming from the lawsuit over redistricting, we trust that the judge will follow the law.

Kansans can count on that, but simple fairness is another matter. It is often not a prime consideration in legal matters. In fact fairness sometimes falls into the category of collateral damage.

If the state ends up picking up the tab, the burden will fall on rank-and-file taxpayers. That’s true whether the money comes out of legislative funds, the attorney general’s funds or another state fund. That doesn’t seem right.

We’ll bet that just about any group of 165 taxpayers — well, other than the 165 who were assigned to do it — could have agreed on maps redrawing the state’s congressional, state Senate, state House and state Board of Education districts. The random 165 would have argued, but knowing that citizens were counting on them — and knowing the responsibility was constitutionally mandated — they would have found a way.

As Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt told the Associated Press, having the state pay the legal bills would amount to “double billing” because taxpayers already paid legislators to deal with redistricting.

It would seem fair, then, to bill the 165 members of the Kansas Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback for their collective failure to pass the constitutionally required maps.

And because of the opportunities they squandered along the way, the games they played and the pettiness they demonstrated, it would seem fair to expect them to pick up the tab out of their own pockets.

That won’t happen, of course, because, among other things, they were acting on behalf of taxpayers… or so they would argue.

As often as not, legislators were acting in the interest of their respective political party or a faction within it. Their inability — their refusal — to perform their duty is what led to the court action and hundreds of thousands of dollars of unnecessary expenses.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach plans to fight the requests for attorneys’ fees. He calls them “excessive” and said that awarding them would be “a real disservice to Kansas taxpayers.” It isn’t often we agree with Mr. Kobach, but he’s right about this.

The court could decide that the clients should pay their attorneys’ fees. That would be reasonable. And perhaps this debacle will serve as a cruel reminder that citizens sometimes get the government they deserve.

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