Updated May 1 with the latest developments.
A battle over document production in a redistricting lawsuit took a surprising turn Tuesday when debate shifted to 75,000 computer files the daughter of a deceased Republican map-making guru gave to the opposition.
Stephanie Hofeller turned over four hard drives and 18 thumb drives of files earlier this year to attorneys for Common Cause, the North Carolina Democratic Party and 37 North Carolina voters after her father’s estate said it had no information about the case, Stanton Jones, an attorney for Common Cause, said during the hearing.
The files are in the hands of a third-party vendor, he said, to maintain their integrity.
Thomas Hofeller first drew redistricting lines for state legislative districts in 2011, after Republicans took control of the General Assembly. Those lines were overturned as unconstitutional, and Hofeller drew another set that are again being challenged. He died in August. Common Cause and the Democratic Party filed their lawsuit in November.
The challengers planned to share most of the files with the attorneys for the Republican lawmakers who are being sued. The files were being discussed because Jones reported about 1,000 of them appear to include personal information such as medical and tax records that have nothing to do with the case, and attorneys for the defendants wanted to see those as well. Jones asked the three-judge panel to decide whether those also should be shared.
But Republicans were concerned about what could be in the documents. Phil Strach, an attorney for lawmakers, objected to Common Cause’s attorneys having access to the trove of documents.
“Dr. Hofeller was estranged from his daughter so we have a very serious concern about how she came into possession of these files,” Strach told the judges by telephone. The hearing was held in Wake County Superior Court, with several lawyers and judges participating by phone.
He said the files likely contain attorney-client privileged information on Hofeller’s redistricting work in other states over many years.
The discussion did not get into specifics about what the files may show about Hofeller’s work. He has worked on behalf of Republicans as far back as the 1980s, using his computer mapping skills as the chief mapmaker for the national party, according to a New York Times obituary.
Jones contended that Strach and other defense attorneys should have objected when Jones subpoenaed the files from Stephanie Hofeller.
In an order Wednesday, the judges said challengers must share “unaltered copies of all hard drives received in response to the subpoena issued to Ms. Hofeller.” The files identified as containing Hofeller’s private information must be marked, according to the order.
The case is slated to go to trial July 15.