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Closing Arguments Set In Redistricting Trial

TALLAHASSEE (The News Service of Florida) — Closing arguments are expected Wednesday in a high-stakes trial that could define the boundaries of the state's congressional districts and the effectiveness of the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts constitutional amendments.Lawyers for the Legislature, which is accused of violating the constitutional standards during the once-a-decade redistricting process in 2012, said late Tuesday they will call one more witness Wednesday morning, allowing the case to wrap up on time. Each side will get about one hour in the afternoon to sum up their positions.

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis had asked attorneys to finish up Wednesday, the 12th day of the trial, so that he can begin a scheduled move to the court's criminal division.

Voting-rights organizations have challenged the congressional map drawn in 2012, saying it favored Republicans. The Fair Districts amendments, approved by voters in 2010, bar lawmakers from crafting districts meant to help or hurt political parties or candidates.

On Tuesday, Lewis heard again from John Guthrie, who led the staff for the Senate Reapportionment Committee in 2012. Two statistical experts also testified on behalf of the state in an effort to buttress the Legislature's argument that it drew the lines in a legal manner, but that Republicans naturally have an advantage in the congressional delegation despite Florida being a swing state because of demographics.

The low-key testimony this week has marked a departure from the first two weeks of the trial, when a series of legislative leaders and political consultants were forced to testify about the behind-the-scenes machinations of the 2012 legislative session, which was notable for the bitter relationship between then-House Speaker Dean Cannon and then-Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

The trial included revelations that a map purportedly submitted by former Florida State University student Alex Posada might have come from someone else. Posada said last week that he did not draw that map, did not submit it to the Legislature and did not authorize anyone else to do so on his behalf, according to a lawyer for a coalition of voting rights groups

Lewis' decision, expected sometime this summer, is unlikely to be the last word on the subject. That probably will be left up to the Florida Supreme Court, which threw out the first version of a Senate map in 2012 but let the initial draft of state House districts stand.

That process did not include the congressional map at the center of the current trial.