The office of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis reportedly attempted behind the scenes to crush a public records lawsuit demanding that the state release the names of all elder-care facilities in which someone has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
"Anyone with a relative in an elder-care facility has a right to know if their loved ones are at risk so they can make an informed decision about their care."
—Aminda Marqués González, Miami Herald executive editor and publisher
The Miami Herald, the Florida newspaper behind the planned legal action, reported Saturday that DeSantis' general counsel called Holland & Knight lawyer George Meros, who has represented the state of Florida in the past, and pressured him to abandon the lawsuit after the Herald notified the state of the pending legal action, as required by law.
"Shortly after that conversation, the Herald's attorney, [Sanford] Bohrer, received a phone call from inside Holland & Knight, instructing him to stand down," the Herald reported.
"They asked us not to file this lawsuit on behalf of the Herald," Bohrer said. "They did not want Holland & Knight to represent the Herald."
Aminda Marqués González, the Herald's executive editor and publisher, said in a statement that the suit will still go forward but under a different law firm. The public records lawsuit will seek only the names of elder-care facilities where someone has tested positive for COVID-19, not the names of individual patients, the Herald said.
"We are disappointed that the governor's office would go so far as to apply pressure on our legal counsel to prevent the release of public records that are critical to the health and safety of Florida's most vulnerable citizens," said Marqués. "We shouldn't have had to resort to legal action in the first place. Anyone with a relative in an elder-care facility has a right to know if their loved ones are at risk so they can make an informed decision about their care."
Explosive: looking to conceal the COVID-19 situation in Florida's elder-care facilities, the office of Gov. DeSantis convinced a law firm that works with the @MiamiHerald to drop the Herald's public records lawsuit. https://t.co/6ToQ3BNNLX pic.twitter.com/ht5WmdGd5J
— Taniel (@Taniel) April 12, 2020
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Julie Brown, an investigative reporter with the Herald, tweeted that she has "never been more proud of the Miami Herald—fighting Governor Ron DeSantis whose ignorance has led to countless people getting sick—especially the elderly."
"The Herald is standing up for those older citizens by suing his ass," said Brown.
NEWS: I’ve never been more proud of the @MiamiHerald — fighting Governor @GovRonDeSantis whose ignorance has led to countless people getting sick — esp the elderly. The Herald is standing up for those older citizens by suing his ass. https://t.co/6WHQHU1T9t
— julie k. brown (@jkbjournalist) April 12, 2020
The fight over the public records lawsuit comes as DeSantis is under fire for mishandling his state's response to the coronavirus outbreak and downplaying the threat posed by the disease with blatant falsehoods.
According to state health officials, Florida officially has nearly 19,000 cases of COVID-19 and over 450 deaths as of Sunday morning. DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order earlier this month in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, but critics said the governor took too long to act, endangering the health of his state's large elderly population.
"Egged on by corporate lobbyists and inclined to defer to Donald Trump's uninformed whims, DeSantis kept the state open for business as long as he could, refusing to tell Florida's 21 million residents to hole up in their houses," Diane Roberts, a professor at Florida State University, wrote in a scathing article for The New Republic on Friday. "His rationale—that 'saving the economy' would save more lives—was 'the dumbest shit I have heard in a long time,' said one Democratic state senator from Miami."
"On Thursday, he mused about reopening Florida schools soon," Roberts continued. "'This particular pandemic is one where, I don't think nationwide there's been a single fatality under 25,' he riffed in a coronavirus press conference. 'For whatever reason, it just doesn't seem to threaten, you know, kids.' That ramble was so factually incorrect that it inspired CNN's Chris Cillizza to pen a column titled 'What the governor of Florida doesn't know about the coronavirus is a lot.' When even the world's worst both-sidesing, horse-race-loving pundit feels compelled to call you an idiot, there's a very good chance you're an idiot."