North Carolina Republican lawmakers, seeking to suppress potentially damaging files from a former GOP redistricting guru, accused the expert’s daughter Monday of committing larceny when she obtained them.
The accusation came in a blistering filing in state court over the information on the hard drives, which may contain explosive information about how the operative, Thomas Hofeller, gerrymandered on behalf of Republicans in North Carolina and across the country. Those files have the potential to shake up multiple contentious legal battles, including a case over whether the Trump administration can add a question about citizenship to the Census, and whether North Carolina Republican lawmakers lied to federal judges about gerrymandering based on racial data. Now, Republicans are trying to keep the files private.
Hofeller’s estranged daughter, Stephanie Hofeller, obtained the hard drives with her mother’s permission last year, after she happened to spot a jewelry box from her childhood in her late father’s room and then found the drives in a bag on a shelf. She eventually volunteered the drives to lawyers representing Common Cause, an advocacy group suing North Carolina over gerrymandered state legislative maps drawn by Thomas Hofeller.
Last month, lawyers said they discovered evidence in the files that Hofeller played a role in getting a citizenship question added to the 2020 Census (a claim the Justice Department denies). Hofeller helped facilitate the question after arguing in a 2015 study that getting a citizenship question on the Census would be an essential step toward being able to draw districts based only on the population of voting-age citizens, not the total population. Such a switch, Hofeller wrote, “would be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic whites.”
In the new filing, the North Carolina Republican lawyers accused Common Cause attorneys of unethically obtaining the hard drives. They asked a judge to order them returned and to consider disqualifying attorneys from the case.
Common Cause lawyers “are using this proceeding as a platform for baseless political invective,” the GOP lawyers argued. “They are in possession of documents belonging to others and containing express privilege designations through apparently unethical means.”
Stephanie Hofeller took the hard drives with her mother’s permission after she came home in October to go through the possessions of her father, who died in August at age 75. The GOP lawyers launched a broad attack against Hofeller, detailing several criminal charges from her past and accusing her of taking advantage of her mother, Kathleen. They noted Kathleen was suspected to have dementia, and said that “taking personal property from someone lacking capacity to give it is larceny.”
Tom Sparks, an attorney who represented Stephanie Hofeller at a preliminary competency hearing against Kathleen, pushed back on the claim that Hofeller took advantage of her mother, and said allegations about her incompetence have not been established as fact.
“The allegations as to Mrs. Hofeller’s incompetence are just that ― unproven allegations,” Sparks told HuffPost. “Mrs. Hofeller has never been found to be incompetent.” He added that the entire incompetency proceeding was dismissed earlier this year after the parties entered into an agreement.
The allegations as to Mrs. Hofeller’s incompetence are just that ― unproven allegations. Tom Sparks, an attorney for Stephanie Hofeller
Attorneys for the North Carolina Republicans argued that once the lawyers representing Common Cause became aware Stephanie Hofeller had her father’s files, they had an ethical obligation to advise her of the legal jeopardy she could be in for possessing the files. The Common Cause lawyers failed to do that, the GOP lawyers allege, and instead obtained the files from Hofeller after she approached them.
R. Stanton Jones, a lawyer at Arnold & Porter who is representing Common Cause, said several claims in Monday’s filing were inaccurate, and indicated a longer response is forthcoming.
“The legislative leaders’ brief yesterday contains multiple misstatements and baseless accusations, which we will address in full in our response,” he said in a statement. “As for the Hofeller files, they will speak for themselves.”
Common Cause lawyers said earlier this month that documents in Hofeller’s files showed North Carolina Republicans lied to a federal court in 2017 about the way they redrew state legislative districts to fix racial gerrymandering. The Common Cause lawyers said Hofeller, who Republicans hired to draw new maps, had already started drawing districts in 2017, when lawmakers told the court they had not begun the process at all. The GOP lawmakers also said they didn’t use racial data to draw the new maps in 2017, but files on Hofeller’s computer, Common Cause lawyers say, show he did in fact use racial data.
The Republican lawyers pushed back on those accusations in their filing, saying lawmakers did not know what Hofeller was working on before they formally retained him, and that “it would not be surprising” if he relied on his prior work once he was formally hired. Even if Hofeller was drawing maps before Republicans retained him, the lawyers said, he was constrained in how he could draw certain districts by North Carolina law.
The Republican lawyers also claimed ignorance about Hofeller’s use of racial data. Even if Hofeller used racial data on his personal computer, the lawyers said Republicans provided him with a state-issued computer to formally do all of the redistricting. Republicans only had control over that state-issued computer and there was no racial data loaded on it, they said.