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Political redistricting trial in Florida awaits judge's ruling

By Bill Cotterell

TALLAHASSEE Fla. (Reuters) - Republican leaders in Florida's Legislature did not design their congressional redistricting plan to tilt the political playing field in their party's favor, a legislative aide testified on Wednesday at a trial that could force redrawing of the state's congressional boundaries.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause and some individual voters challenged the 2012 congressional redistricting plan under which 17 Republicans and 10 Democrats were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Democrats lead in party registration in Florida, but Republicans control the state government.

During the 13-day trial, attorneys for the plaintiffs cited a series of private meetings, deleted emails, Republican-only huddles between staff and professional campaign consultants, and the leaking of congressional maps to a Republican strategist two weeks before their public release.

But Republican lawmakers, their aides and outside consultants testified that the map leak was a mistake and insisted no secret deals were struck.

Jason Poreda, who was a staff analyst for the state House of Representatives redistricting committee, testified on Wednesday that no legislative leaders told him to move a district line or favor either party.

"We wanted to comply with the constitutional standards," said Poreda, who worked for the Republican Party of Florida before joining the House staff and now works in the Republican leadership office.

"That was our guiding light, our guiding principle throughout the entire process," he said as testimony ended in the trial.

Voters adopted two "Fair Districts Florida" constitutional amendments in 2010, forbidding legislators to favor or hamper incumbents or members of either party in drawing compact congressional districts, while also protecting minority voting rights.

Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, both Republicans, said they vigorously fought those amendments, but abided by them once they passed.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis dispensed with oral closing arguments and told both sides to submit written statements next week. If he rules the Republican leadership evaded the "Fair Districts" constitutional edicts, he could order the maps redrawn.

(Editing by David Adams and Peter Cooney)

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