SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, Esmeralda Swartz, Kevin Jackson

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Costly Legal Fight Avoided Over Redistricting in a Georgia County

Attorneys, Local Parties Seek Federal Court's Help to Redraw Map

ATLANTA, Dec. 5, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- After the U.S. Attorney General rejected Long County, Georgia's redistricting plan in August 2012, county leaders, in consultation with counsel, took a proactive approach to solving the problem. As a result, the county's five election districts were redrawn with unusual speed and under budget, elections were scheduled, and a costly legal fight was avoided.

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What course of action did Long County's Board of Commissioners and Board of Education choose? Sue the local Board of Elections to enjoin use of any existing reapportionment plan and seek the assistance of a federal three-judge panel to draw a new, interim map.

The suit alleged the state-approved 2012 map, as well as its predecessor, a 1988 map, violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, respectively.

The proactive approach implemented by attorneys with Arnall Golden Gregory LLP, working with local counsel, avoided a costly legal fight. Just seven weeks after the suit was filed on Sept. 11, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, Brunswick Division, working with the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office of the Georgia General Assembly, created a districts map that complied with the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act. And because the Court drew the lines, the map was not subject to another time consuming review by the U.S. Attorney General.

The Commissioners and Board of Education were represented by Edward Marshall, Henry Chalmers and Jennifer Shelfer of Arnall Golden Gregory in Atlanta; Jeffrey Arnold and Andrew Johnson of Arnold, Stafford, Randolph & Schaefer in Hinesville, Ga.; and B.J. Swindell of McCullough & Swindell in Glennville, Ga.

Long County had not revised its voting districts since 1988, so they were out of date with dramatic population changes. In March 2012, the Georgia General Assembly approved a new redistricting plan for Long County. The southeast Georgia county used that plan for its Board of Commissioners and Board of Education elections, which occurred on July 31 -- before the Attorney General issued a decision on the revised map.

On Aug. 27, the Attorney General announced the map had been rejected because of concerns about dilution of black voter strength. The issue arose from a statistical "retrogression" of black voters' voting power, not racial animus (as the District Court observed, all three current members of the Board of Elections are black). The election results for the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education were thrown out. But because the District Court agreed as part of the lawsuit to quickly resolve the issue by drawing a new map, Long County was able to reschedule elections for March 2013.

Attorneys for the Commissioners and the Board of Education could have pursued approval of the 2012 map in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia or challenged the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, but either approach would have triggered a protracted, expensive legal fight, and elections could have been delayed indefinitely.

Instead, the approach implemented by Arnall Golden Gregory and local counsel -- inviting the District Court to redraw the map -- was the most sensible and efficient solution. All parties recognized the map was flawed, therefore all parties were eager to cooperate to find a speedy, cost-effective remedy.

"We could not be more pleased with the attention the Court gave this matter, or the speed with which it adopted a workable solution to the issues impacting the Long County voting districts," said Mr. Marshall, a partner at Arnall Golden Gregory.  "Having an interim judicial plan put in place quickly saved Long County and its voters the considerable cost and uncertainty that would have accompanied a lengthy legal battle."

Redrawing political boundaries occurs frequently in the Southeast because of the region's fluid demographics. If not done correctly, redistricting can lead to expensive legal entanglements and throw elections into disarray. The smart approach is to engage counsel with Voting Rights and Equal Protection Clause expertise at the beginning of the process to assure federal compliance and a smooth transition to a new election map.

About Arnall Golden Gregory LLP

Arnall Golden Gregory employs a "business sensibility" approach to serving clients domestically and abroad. By thoroughly understanding each client's business, AGG attorneys in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Miami deliver optimum results in a cost effective manner. AGG's areas of focus include corporate, litigation, healthcare, real estate, international, private wealth, family business, employment, life sciences, global logistics, privacy, and intellectual property law. With AGG as a partner, companies and individuals around the globe are empowered to turn legal challenges into business opportunities.

Contact: Kevin Duffy
[email protected]
404-873-8131

SOURCE Arnall Golden Gregory LLP

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