Florida Judge Orders DeSantis To Hand Over Migrant Flights Records – Oct. 26, 2022

A judge in Tallahassee, Florida, has ordered Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to submit flight records associated with the transport of approximately 50 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in September.

Politico reported that Circuit Judge J. Lee Marsh “rebuffed arguments from the governor’s lawyers requesting they be allowed to wait until Dec. 1 to hand over records, including phone and text logs belonging to James Uthmeier, the governor’s chief of staff.”

Marsh ordered attorneys representing DeSantis to submit the required paperwork within 20 days.

Michael Barfield, director of public access for the Florida Center for Government Accountability (FCGA), the group that initiated the lawsuit, said of the ruling: “The governor has been held accountable to his constitutional duty to provide public access to records. The rule of law has prevailed.”

The governor’s office has not issued a formal statement regarding the ruling, but some close to the matter have indicated there would be an appeal.

DeSantis noted he joined with Texas and Arizona governors in sending illegal immigrants to northern Democrat-led sanctuary cities in response to the Biden administration’s failure to close the open southern border.

Border state governors have been condemned by Democrats, who have referred to transporting immigrants to northern cities as a “political stunt” akin to human trafficking. However, conservative Republicans note that the Biden administration routinely transported immigrants in busses and planes across state lines last spring and summer.

In an effort to discourage the transport of immigrants, several pro-open border groups requested records pertaining to how flights from Florida to Martha’s Vineyard were coordinated — specifically, whether they involved top officials in the DeSantis administration.

The DeSantis team has seemingly delayed in producing those records, prompting the FCGA to file a lawsuit in early October. The suit claims there has been an “unjustified delay” in responding to their request for information.

Since FCGA filed the lawsuit, the DeSantis team has “turned over some records,” according to the Conservative Brief, including redacted copies of waivers signed by migrants who boarded the plane. 

DeSantis’ office, however, pushed back on the claim that it was not producing paperwork in a timely manner, noting that they “had been inundated with record requests,” had a “small staff” and anticipated being able to turn over all information no later than Dec. 1.

During Tuesday’s hour-long hearing, Andrew King, assistant general counsel for DeSantis, claimed the FCGA was “weaponizing the public records law so they can jump everyone else.” 

Nick Meros claimed the ruling would create a “precedent” requiring administrations to “play favorites” regarding how it responds to public record requests.

The FCGA suit is one of several legal challenges governor DeSantis’ office is facing. State Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat from South Florida, filed a lawsuit claiming that funds used to pay for the flights to transport immigrants represent a violation of state budget laws.  

Politico reports that Biden’s Treasury Department is investigating claims that DeSantis improperly used funds allocated for Covid-19 relief to transport immigrants.

That lawsuit also claims that the DeSantis administration ignored guidelines for the relocation program established by state legislators. 

A circuit court judge will hear that lawsuit in November.

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