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A Florida judge has ordered DeSantis to hand over migrant flight documents.
A Florida judge has ordered DeSantis to hand over migrant flight documents. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

DeSantis ordered to hand over migrant flight documents by Florida judge

The Florida governor’s office has not responded, but the state expects there to be an appeal on the order.

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On Tuesday, Oct. 25, Florida Circuit Judge J. Lee Marsh ordered Governor Ron DeSantis to cede migrant flight documents after ruling that DeSantis did not comply with state public records law. He ordered his lawyers and DeSantis to provide the records within the next 20 days. 

The judge disregarded arguments from the governor’s lawyers that they should be allowed to wait until Dec. 1 to do so, which include phone and text logs belonging to the DeSantis’ chief of staff, James Uthmeier. 

Uthmeier was revealed to be involved in the migrant transportation scheme that saw nearly 50 mostly-Venezuelan migrants flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Earlier this month, state documents and DeSantis’ spokesperson revealed that the Florida governor had another round of flights ready and lined up to go to Delaware and Illinois after initially stalling them to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. 

The text messages between Uthmeier and Larry Keefe, DeSantis’ safety czar, showed that the two officials were coordinating the flights. Marsh, who was appointed by former Republican Gov. Rick Scott, pointed out that under the law DeSantis is in violation of, he could have forced the governor’s administration to hand over those records in 48 hours, but instead gave them nearly three weeks. 

The governor’s office has not responded to this request, but lawyers representing the Florida Center for Government Accountability (FLCGA), the government group that filed the lawsuit, said they anticipated an appeal from DeSantis’ team. 

“We’re very pleased to report that we were victorious in court today,” the FLCGA tweeted. “It’s a great day for the Public Records Act and the right to know what our government is doing!” 

“The governor has been held accountable to his constitutional duty to provide public access to records,” said Michael Barfield, director of public access for FLCGA. “The rule of law has prevailed.”

In the hour-long hearing on Tuesday, assistant general counsel for the governor, Andrew King, told Judge Marsh that the center was “weaponizing the public records law so they can jump everyone else.” He also revealed that Uthmeier has no phone logs despite records saying otherwise, and that even if he did, it would not be a public record. 

“We don’t believe the Governor’s Office responded in good faith to our records request. Not a single record that we actually requested has been produced,” Barfield said in a news release. “The public’s right to know is more important than the Governor’s desire to dole out misinformation. The Governor has a constitutional duty to provide information to the citizens of the state of Florida.” 

The flights are being paid for in part by taxpayer money through DeSantis’ state budget under a section titled “Freedom First.” It is also being funded through the accumulated interest from COVID-19 relief given to the state by Congress. 

This is only in part one of other lawsuits going against the governor and his administration. Democratic Senator from South Florida, Jason Pizzo, also filed a lawsuit that says that the $12 million placed in the budget to pay for the flights is in violation of several state laws in regards to the budget. A circuit court judge is set to hear that suit in November.

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