The California Citizens Redistricting Commission voted Wednesday to hire Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP to help defend against likely challenges to the state’s new congressional, legislative, and tax district maps.
The powerhouse law firm, which reported more than $2 billion in revenue last year to The American Lawyer, will only complete 30% of the contract work, the commission agreed. The bulk of the work will go to a smaller firm, Los Angeles-based Strumwasser & Woocher, LP.
The Gibson Dunn team includes Ted Boutrous, a Los Angeles litigator who has been an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump and offered to represent Trump’s detractors against defamation claims, free of charge. Boutrous, who has also led
Eleven commissioners voted to grant the contract to Gibson Dunn, despite some concerns about the cost and potential conflicts of interest. One commisioner voted no, and a third member abstained. The commission unanimously approved the Strumwasser and Woocher contract.
The commission granted the contracts to serve as litigation counsel ahead of the every-10-year redistricting process that will influence political power in California for the next decade.
Strumwasser & Woocher is lesser-known than Gibson Dunn, and its rates are far lower. Gibson Dunn’s attorneys charge between $775 per hour to $1,625 per hour for Boutrous’ time. Strumwasser & Woocher’s rates range from $125 per hour for law clerks to $575 per hour for senior partners.
The sticker shock of Gibson Dunn’s rates drew rebukes from some commissioners
“I just wanted to go public on the record how disappointed I am with the Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher’s hourly rates,” said Commissioner Alicia Fernandez (R), who voted against granting the contract.
Commissioner Trena Turner (D) also expressed trepidation about the costs, but ultimately voted to approve the contract .
“An hourly rate of 1,000-some dollars is something that I think we should carefully think about,” she added.
Commissioner Pedro Toledo (No Party Preference) said the commission tried to negotiate down the rates, but three other municipalities already have publicly hired the firm at the same price.
“They are very good at what they do,” Toledo said.
Commissioner Derric Taylor (R) abstained from voting.
Under California law, both firms must make a good faith effort to provide a certain number of pro bono hours. That amount would be the lesser of two options: either 30 multiplied by the number of full-time attorneys in the firm’s state offices, or 10% of the firm’s contract with the state.
Court Fights Expected
The final vote came after weeks of discussions among commission members and voting-rights advocates about Gibson Dunn’s potential conflicts in representing the commission, a bipartisan body that seeks to make apolitical decisions on district boundaries. Current and former commissioners also have raised concerns about the firm’s high costs when it represented the commission during the 2010 redistricting cycle.
The firm’s lawyers and political committees have donated millions of dollars to political candidates over the past several years, with nearly three-quarters of the cash going to Democrats in the most recent election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The firm is also home to some notable GOP lawyers. Gibson Dunn partner Ted Olson served as solicitor general under President George W. Bush after successfully representing Bush in the U.S. Supreme Court battle over the 2000 election.
Commissioners and advocates in past meetings questioned Gibson Dunn’s current role defending the City of Santa Monica, Calif., before the California Supreme Court in Pico Neighborhood Assn. v. City of Santa Monica, Cal., No. S263972, a case that alleges the city violated the California Voting Rights Act by holding at-large elections that dilute Latino voting power.
David Becker, founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, will aid Strumwasser & Woocher in advising the commission.
The legal hires come as redistricting authorities across the country face a time crunch to finish district maps before the 2022 elections. The U.S. Census, faced with data-collection difficulties during the Covid-19 pandemic, said last month that unprocessed redistricting data will be available by mid-to-late August—five months after the statutory deadline. The data will be available in a more user-friendly format on Sept. 30.
The commission’s draft schedule sets a range between Nov. 16 and Jan. 1 as the target date for releasing draft maps, and Dec. 30 and Feb. 14 for delivering the final maps. California’s next statewide primary election is scheduled for June 7, 2022.
Though it’s not certain how much the firms will be paid through the end of the redistricting cycle, the commission has set aside $3.25 million for legal and related services through June 30, 2022, according to the latest budget. The commission also set aside $4.3 million to pay for litigation related to the maps.