The fight over the files from deceased Republican mapmaker Tom Hofeller has taken on a life of its own.
On Monday, the three-judge panel overseeing the remedial redistricting process in partisan gerrymandering case Common Cause v. Lewis officially severed the issue of whether the Hofeller files should become public or not. They assigned Superior Court Judge Vince Rozier to preside over any related hearings and make the final decision.
“During the course of the litigation of plaintiffs’ action challenging the validity of the acts of the General Assembly in 2017 … an issue now wholly separate from plaintiffs’ claims has developed that will in all likelihood outlast the full resolution of plaintiffs’ action: a dispute as to proper ownership and possible protection of what is now referred to as the Hofeller files.”
Hofeller’s daughter, Stephanie Lizon Hofeller, turned over his electronic files to the Common Cause plaintiffs after his death. The confidentiality of those files has been at issue almost during the pendency of that litigation, though 35 specific documents related to North Carolina redistricting in 2017 were released for a trial.
A few other documents related to Hofeller’s involvement in creating a citizenship question on the 2020 Census were also released before the three-judge Wake County Superior Court marked the files confidential pending litigation. Geographic Strategies, a political consulting firm Hofeller co-founded, was the first to try to claim ownership of the documents, despite admitting knowing what all was contained in them.
The court has since given the firm an opportunity to review the files and identify specifically which documents they own, but in the mean time, Hofeller’s daughter released the entirety of the Hofeller files to the New Yorker. Now Geographic Strategies has filed a motion to hold Stephanie Hofeller in contempt of court and to enjoin the New Yorker from releasing any more information about the files. That matter is still pending.
In an unrelated motion, the Republican National Committee has filed a similar motion to Geographic Strategies’ to also claim ownership of the Hofeller files. Nueces County has filed a separate motion to inspect the files and asked the court not to destroy any files that belong to them, and North Carolina lawmakers have asked for permission to destroy the “privileged’ files it has possession of, according to Monday’s order.
Those and several other motions are still pending before the court related to the Hofeller files, which remain confidential until at least 11:59 p.m. Friday.
The Monday order states there is a longstanding principle that trial judges have the inherent authority and discretion to manage proceedings before them — that includes separating claims and issues within an action. It states that separating the claims will also convenience the parties to Common Cause, the court and non-parties, will avoid prejudice and keep the court from having to expend resources.
The three-judge Common Cause panel will retain authority over any issue or claim arising in the Hofeller files dispute that will require an order or judgement to be entered affecting the validity of acts of the General Assembly that has to do with apportionment or redistricting.
Rozier has been provided all relevant and necessary materials, filings and pleadings, according to the order. It’s expected there will be a court hearing to follow shortly.