Redistricting challenge derailed by weather

2014-01-07T12:15:00Z 2014-01-08T07:33:03Z Redistricting challenge derailed by weatherBob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com
January 07, 2014 12:15 pm  • 

The extreme winter weather derailed a court hearing Tuesday on the legality of the Porter County Board of Commissioners last-minute redrawing of the County Council districts.

The delay could result in further confusion over the issue as candidate filing begins Wednesday in various races for this year's elections, including the four council seats in question.

Attorney Edward Hearn, who is pursuing the legal challenge of the redistricting on behalf of five people, hopes to minimize confusion by seeking a new hearing date for as soon as possible when the courts reopen.

The hearing, which was set for Tuesday before LaPorte County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Alevizos, was called off when county government there decided to keep its offices closed for a second consecutive day due to the weather.

The lawsuit focuses on the bipartisan decision by the commissioners to move Westchester Township Precinct 17 from District 1 to 2, yet leave it unattached from the 2nd District -- and at odds with state law requiring that all four districts be contiguous.

The move, which has been criticized for taking place just weeks before candidate filing begins, resulted in Democrat County Councilman Jeremy Rivas losing his eligibility to continue representing the 2nd District. He was moved to District 4, which is represented by his political ally Republican James Polarek.

Rivas, who is among those bringing the legal challenge, said Tuesday he plans to wait and see the results of the lawsuit before filing for re-election.

"I have every intention on running," he said. "I'm going to let the courts play their role first."

The commissioners have hired outside legal counsel to represent them in the lawsuit rather than relying on the county attorney, Hearn said.

He was notified the commissioners are being represented by William Bock III, of Indianapolis, whose firm's website describes him as having developed expertise in the specialized areas of government defense, constitutional law, voting rights and election law.

Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, said, "Litigation regarding redistricting issues is a highly specialized field and we retained an attorney who specializes in this area of practice to respond promptly to the request for the entry of a temporary restraining order."

The three Porter County commissioners suspended the rules Dec. 17 to rush through two rounds of bipartisan approval of the plan, which they said narrows the population gap among the four districts from 10.4 to 3.19 percent. Indiana law requires that districts have as equal populations as possible.

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