A divided Orange County Board of Supervisors today chose a politically well-connected local law firm to guide them through the once-a-decade process of drawing their own district boundaries.

The firm, Woodruff, Spradlin & Smart, won the job largely due to its association former county counsel Benjamin P. de Mayo, who handled reapportionment for the county in 2001 and 1991.

The firm also represents several other county and city agencies, and its president, Ken Smart, represents the Orange County Transportation Authority.

It also didn’t hurt that the firm was the least expensive with hourly rates for partners of $325 and $250 for associates.

But Supervisor Shawn Nelson opposed selection of that firm saying “to sell a big experience curve in that regard (remapping) would be overstating the matter.”

All four firms under consideration for the highly political job of redrawing the lines for supervisorial districts were extremely well-tied in politically and three of the four boasted strong Republican or county political credentials. The fourth had significant ties to Democrats.

The county counsel’s staff had recommended either Woodruff, Spradlin & Smart, or the firm of Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor, LLP, which is based in San Rafael, north of San Francisco and has offices in Sacramento. The firm also is doing San Diego County’s redistricting.

Partner Vigo (Chip) Nielsen is a former top aide to onetime Republican Lt. Gov. Ed Reinecke and another partner, Steven Merksamer was chief of staff to former GOP Gov. George Deukmejian.

But that firm, which also was the most expensive, had no support among the five supervisors. In fact, none of the top three firms could garner more than three votes and four votes were needed to hire lawyers who could handle potential law suits, in addition to helping draw district lines.

In the end, the supervisors decided not to hire anyone at this time to handle possible litigation, which enabled a three-member majority to go with Woodruff, Spradlin & Smart.

At one point board chairman Bill Campbell made a mild pitch for the staff’s third choice, Los Angeles-based Reed & Davidson. One of its partners is Dana Reed, a member of the governing board of the California Republican Party and a member of the Orange County Lincoln Club.

“They have excellent expertise in political law,” he noted. But, he added, “they have no experience in redistricting.”

None of the five Republican board members suggested hiring the firm with ties to Democrats, Remcho, Johansen & Purcell, whose client list has included the United Farm Workers, former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, San Francisco Mayor and former Assembly Speaker Democrat Willie L. Brown, Jr.


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