DeSantis Must Hand Over Migrant Flights Records, Judge Orders

Governor Ron DeSantis’ office has been ordered to turn over records connected to the migrants’ flights from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard within the next 20 days after a Florida judge on Tuesday found that the administration is not following the state’s public records law.

The records that DeSantis’ office must turn over include James Uthmeier’s phone and text logs. Uthmeier is DeSantis’ chief of staff who was involved in flying the nearly 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants to the vacation island.

The arguments from DeSantis’ lawyers that they should be allowed to wait until Dec. 1 to hand over the documents were rebuffed by Circuit Judge J. Lee Marsh but both the court and the plaintiffs anticipated there would be an appeal.

In the lawsuit filed earlier this month, the Florida Center for Government Accountability claimed the failure to hand over records was an unjustified delay.

According to Florida Center for Government Accountability’s director of public access Michael Barfield, the public’s right to access was vindicated in Judge Marsh’s decision, noting that Gov. DeSantis is not immune from being held accountable to his constitutional duty to provide public access to records.

The assistant general counsel for DeSantis, Andrew King, however, argued during the hour-long hearing on Tuesday that the center is weaponizing the public records law to get ahead of other people or organizations seeking records.

The response pushing back against the lawsuit filed by DeSantis’ office, which has since turned over some records – including redacted copies of waivers signed by the migrants who flew on the flights and info on the involvement of top DeSantis aides – said that it would eventually turn over all information no later than Dec. 1 since they’ve been inundated with record requests despite having a small staff.

Numerous news organizations and other groups filed record requests in late September seeking information on the migrant relocation program DeSantis launched – which is being paid from interest earned off billions in Covid-19 relief aid provided to Florida by Congress – to draw attention to President Biden’s immigration policies.

That has prompted the Treasury Department’s watchdog to open an investigation into whether DeSantis improperly used money related to Covid-19 relief dollars.

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