On Tuesday, October 25, Florida Circuit Judge J. Lee Marsh ruled that Governor Ron DeSantis had violated the state’s public records statute and ordered DeSantis to provide over the migrant flight information. He gave DeSantis and his attorneys 20 days to deliver the documents.
The governor’s attorneys argued that they should be let to wait until December 1 to do so, and the judge rejected their claims, which included phone and text logs belonging to James Uthmeier, the chief of staff for DeSantis.
It was discovered that Uthmeier was implicated in the plot to transport migrants, in which approximately 50 people, largely from Venezuela, were flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. State records and a spokeswoman for DeSantis disclosed earlier this month that the Florida governor had rescheduled flights to Delaware and Illinois after first delaying them to cope with Hurricane Ian’s aftermath.
The texts sent between DeSantis’ safety czar Larry Keefe and Uthmeier revealed that the two officials were organizing the flights. Marsh, who was chosen by previous Republican governor Rick Scott, said that DeSantis could have required the governor’s office to turn up those data in 48 hours, but instead granted them almost three weeks, in violation of the law.
The governor’s office hasn’t replied to this request, but the attorneys for the government organization that brought the lawsuit—the Florida Center for Government Accountability (FLCGA)—said they expected an appeal from DeSantis’ group.
The FLCGA tweeted, “We’re extremely glad to report that we were successful in court today.” “The Public Records Act and the freedom to know what our government is doing are both having a fantastic day,”
According to Michael Barfield, FLCGA’s director of public access, “the governor has been held responsible to his constitutional obligation to grant public access to documents.” “Law and order has won out.”
Judge Marsh was informed by the governor’s associate general counsel, Andrew King, during the hour-long hearing on Tuesday that the center was “weaponizing the public records legislation so they can jump everyone else.” He also disclosed that, despite records to the contrary, Uthmeier does not keep phone logs and that, even if he did, the logs would not be available to the public.
“We don’t think the Governor’s Office complied with our records request in a sincere manner. In a news release, Barfield stated that “not a single record that we truly requested has been generated.” “The Governor’s intention to spread false information is less significant than the public’s right to know. According to Florida’s constitution, the governor must tell the people of the state.
The flights are being partially funded by tax dollars under DeSantis’ state budget’s “Freedom First” subsection. Additionally, the accrued interest on the COVID-19 relief that Congress granted the state is being used to pay for it.
The governor and his administration are the targets of more litigation, of which this is only part one. Jason Pizzo, a Democratic senator from South Florida, has also filed a complaint, alleging that the $12 million allocated for the flights violates a number of state budget restrictions. In November, a circuit court judge is scheduled to hear the lawsuit.