Michigan redistricting panel’s top attorney quits amid two court challenges
LANSING— The top attorney for the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission resigned Wednesday, hours after the state Supreme Court heard arguments about the constitutionality of its maps.
In an email sent to the commission, General Counsel Julianne Pastula announced her decision to leave the panel without much explanation.
“The purpose of this letter is to provide official notice of my resignation as General Counsel,” Pastula wrote, adding that pursuant to her contract, she needed to give the commission a 30-day notice.
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Pastula had an annual salary of $150,000, according to her contract. Her last day is Feb. 25. She didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
It wasn’t immediately clear late Thursday how her resignation would affect ongoing challenges to the group’s legislative districts, which are set to become law in March but are being challenged in court separately by Republicans and Democrats.
The commission is expected to discuss next steps Thursday.
Pastula’s resignation came hours after oral arguments before the high court in a lawsuit brought by the Detroit Caucus of the Michigan Legislature against the redistricting commission over the state legislative and congressional maps.
Pastula didn’t argue in front of the higher court. Instead, the commission’s hired litigation counsel Katherine McKnight addressed the justices.
That suit, from Democrats, claims the maps dilute the power of minority voters by failing to create enough districts in which people of color are the majority.
A separate suit, brought by Republicans, challenges the group’s congressional maps, claiming the 13 proposed districts are unconstitutional because they don’t have equal populations.
Edward Woods III, a spokesperson for the commission, said he “didn’t see it coming,” referring to her resignation.
Commissioner Anthony Eid, an independent member of the panel, told Bridge Michigan in a text he was “surprised and disappointed” to see Pastula go.
“Julianne was wonderful at her job, and constantly had the commission’s back,” Eid said. “Her historic work speaks for itself.”
As general counsel, Pastula coordinated the commission’s legal strategy on behalf of the 13-member group that was created by voters in 2018 to draw legislative districts every 10 years.
For years in Michigan, the party in power in the Legislature drew districts, a largely secretive process that a panel of judges concluded resulted in some of the nation’s worst gerrymandering.
Pastula was a longtime attorney for the City of Detroit before joining the commission.
For the most part, commissioners accepted and followed her legal advice.
But recently, there seemed to be a communication breakdown between some commissioners, including Chair Rebecca Szetela.
Szetela, an independent commissioner, has publicly criticized Pastula’s advice, including withholding voting rights-related memos from the public.
Pastula was an advocate for a controversial decision to allow the group to meet in private to discuss the creation of districts and deny Freedom of Information Act requests from Bridge Michigan and other media outlets for materials discussed at the session.
Bridge and other outlets sued, and in December, the state Supreme Court ordered the release of memos discussed in private.
Two weeks ago, the commission voted to “empower” executive director Sue Hammersmith to start a process of mediation between Szetela and Pastula.
During that meeting, Pastula said “she had no dispute” with Szetela.
Asked by Bridge Michigan about the resignation, Szetela said “we thank her for her service.” She added she didn’t know the reasoning for Pastula's resignation.
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