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California's independent redistricting commission chose a legal firm Friday to advise it on minority voting rights, but only after a partisan deadlock ended with one of two finalists withdrawing.

The winner was Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, an international law firm that made headlines last year for successfully challenging California's ballot measure banning gay marriage.

The $150,000 contract calls for the firm to provide legal advice on drawing legislative, congressional and Board of Equalization districts in ways that do not dilute minority voting rights.

The 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission, created by passage of Proposition 11 in 2008, is replacing the Legislature this year as the entity responsible for setting the state's district boundaries every 10 years.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher was supported Friday by every Democrat, independent and minor-party member of the redistricting panel, but on the first roll-call vote, three of five Republicans voted no -- enough to block hiring the firm.

Voting against Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher were Republicans Peter Yao, Michael Ward and Jodie Filkins Webber.

The deadlock was broken when the other top finalist -- Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Gross & Leoni -- withdrew its name from consideration. The commission then voted unanimously for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which has four offices in California.

In three hours of public hearing and debate Friday, commissioners praised both firms, but opponents of Nielsen Merksamer expressed concerns about its past ties to Republican Party interests and its registration as a lobbying firm.

Opponents were not satisfied by Nielsen Merksamer's commitment to create a firewall separating its redistricting duties and lobbying services. The firm said it has been many years since it worked for the California Republican Party or the Republican National Committee.

Commissioners favoring Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher touted what they called a more balanced approach in which a Democrat and a Republican -- George Brown and Dan Kolkey -- will jointly serve as the firm's lead attorneys in working with the redistricting panel.

Brown, the Democrat, is co-chairman of the board of directors of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco, which champions the legal rights of immigrants, refugees and people of color, particularly African Americans.

Brown will team with Kolkey, who was legal affairs secretary for Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, served as GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's lead negotiator for tribal-state compacts, and spent five years as an associate appellate court justice.

Kolkey helped draft Proposition 11, which created the redistricting commission, and played a key role in drafting last year's Proposition 20, which expanded the panel's duties to include congressional districts.


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