Florida Governor Responds To Lawsuit Over Coronavirus Infection Documents By Pressuring Newspaper's Law Firm To Drop The Suit

from the yes-more-opacity-will-definitely-flatten-the-curve dept

We're at a time when we need more transparency from our government officials than ever. And, of course, we're not getting it. The White House ordered federal health officials to designate documents from top-level coronavirus meetings as classified, keeping them away from FOIA requesters. The nation's other coronavirus task force -- headed by Jared Kushner -- is carrying out its official business using private email accounts.

Things aren't much better at the state level. The Miami Herald filed a public records request seeking information about nursing homes in the state affected by the virus. The governor has repeatedly refused to release this information, which is putting healthcare workers and nursing home residents at risk. So, the Miami Herald sued. It notified Governor Ron DeSantis' counsel that it would be filing suit, as is required by the state's litigation process. The governor's lawyers responded by telling the Herald's legal rep to drop the case.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ general counsel called a representative of the Miami Herald’s law firm seeking to quash a public records lawsuit that would force the state to divulge the names of all elder-care facilities that have had a positive test for the coronavirus.

The back-door pressure — through an attorney that had no involvement in the case — paid off.

The law firm, Holland & Knight, told Sanford Bohrer, a senior partner with decades of representing the Miami Herald, to stand down and abandon the lawsuit.

The newspaper will not be abandoning its lawsuit. It has found another law firm to take up its case. But there's already a chill in the air, thanks to these actions.

It appears the governor's office spoke to a different partner in the firm, rather than the lawyer representing the paper. Conveniently, this member of the law firm has represented the state in other matters, making it that much easier to persuade the law firm to drop the Herald as a client in this case.

General Counsel Joe Jacquot sought to short-circuit the litigation. He didn’t call the lawyer who drafted the lawsuit and had sent the letter, but rather another Holland & Knight lawyer, George Meros.

Meros has represented the state on numerous matters, including its recent efforts to defend legislation that undermines the intent of Amendment 4, the ballot measure — passed overwhelmingly — that gives felons the right to vote after they have served their sentences.

Meros has represented a long list of state agencies during his career as an attorney. And his employer apparently felt the best step to take was to direct the paper to drop its lawsuit.

The governor is claiming his office did nothing wrong. His office's spokesperson says contacting a law firm to dissuade them from filing a lawsuit is just a normal pre-litigation tactic used to "avoid unnecessary litigation." That would make sense if the governor's office had called to settle or offer to turn over the records the paper is seeking. But it didn't do that. The governor's lawyer instead leaned on a law firm employee with a long history of defending the state in lawsuits and the firm obliged by "advising" the paper to drop the lawsuit.

There's enough plausible deniability built into this that the blame may lie with the law firm, rather than the governor's office. If the law firm wanted to pass on the lawsuit due to possible conflicts of interest, it could have said as much. And if the governor's office wanted to discuss the lawsuit during the five-day waiting period, it could have spoken to the paper's rep, rather than an attorney that had frequently defended the government in the past. None of that happened, and the paper was forced to hire a new legal rep to continue seeking information the governor's office should have been willing to release in the first place.

Filed Under: florida, foia, george meros, law firms, litigation, pressure, public records, ron desantis, sanford bohrer, threats, transparency
Companies: holland & knight, miami herald


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  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 14 Apr 2020 @ 1:49pm

    A Republican lawmaker doing their best to obstruct media investigations and using their power to chill free speech? Gee, that doesn’t sound familiar at all~.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Apr 2020 @ 4:37pm

      No, a FLORIDA lawmaker....

      The Governor of Florida decreed that WWE was an "essential business".

      Give it up. Florida Man, worlds worst superhero, sometimes gets elected to office.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 14 Apr 2020 @ 4:57pm

        Yeah, you wanna know why WWE got that designation?

        Linda McMahon, a twice-failed Senate candidate and a former Trump administration official (as Administrator of the Small Business Administration, of all things!), made her fortune as the president and later CEO of WWE. She currently serves as chairwoman of America First Action, a pro-Trump Super PAC. Donald Trump has long-standing ties to the McMahons and WWE, including two WrestleMania appearances and a spot in the “celebrity wing” of the WWE Hall of Fame. Gov. DeSantis saved WWE from breaching their TV contracts and losing hundreds of millions of dollars by allowing WWE shows to continue being aired/taped from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando.

        Starting to get the picture? I know I am. Oh, and you should know that a WWE employee¹ recently tested positive for COVID-19 and Vince decided to plow ahead with doing new shows anyway. So…yeah…


        ¹ — So you know, it wasn’t a wrestler. WWE classifies in-ring talent as “independent contractors” to work around a shitload of employment regulations and any financial obligations thereof.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Apr 2020 @ 5:23pm

        Re: No, a FLORIDA lawmaker....

        An essential business ... that is fake!

        LOL

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 14 Apr 2020 @ 6:41pm

          Hate to be a nitpicker, but “fake” isn’t the right word to use when talking about pro wrestling. “Staged”? Absolutely correct. But pro wrestlers suffer actual injuries while doing what they do, so calling what they do “fake” tends to imply otherwise.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            wereisjessicahyde (profile), 14 Apr 2020 @ 7:34pm

            Re:

            It's definitely a fake contest, with a predetermined outcome.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anon E Mouse, 14 Apr 2020 @ 7:38pm

            WWE wants to give the appearance it is running a sport, a competition. All the rounds being staged means there's no actual competition going on. Therefore, the label of "fake" fits. This, however, does not mean the effort the performers put into their act is fake, as clearly testified by their frequent injuries.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 15 Apr 2020 @ 1:58pm

              Re:

              Therefore, the label of "fake" fits.

              No, it doesn't. That label was applied to the business, and WWE is, in fact, a business. The wrestling isn't fake either, because the people are really doing those moves. The label of "fake" applies to the "competition".

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Stephen T. Stone (profile), 16 Apr 2020 @ 2:39am

                Hence why I call the shows themselves “staged” instead of “fake” — pro wrestling is a form of performance art. Wrestlers have to be actors, public speakers, and stuntmen all at once. They have to perform dangerous stunts without hurting themselves (too much) and keep their “dance partners” in the ring from being hurt, all while presenting the illusion that they’re being hurt. In (at least) WWE, they’re given strict scripts to memorize and recite on-camera, often with only one take to get it right. They have to improvise on the fly whenever something goes wrong or, in cases outside of WWE, whenever they’re given “bullet points” to hit in a promo but are otherwise left to their own devices. Pro wrestlers are far more skilled at what they do than one might think of “meatheads doing meathead ballet” or whatever derogatory term you might have for them.

                And yeah, it takes a…special kind of person to do what they do day in and day out, especially for the kind of pay offered by independent companies (long joked about to be “hotdogs and a handshake”, which could also be a potshot at the “carnival” scam roots of pro wrestling). But when that person is good at what they do, they can make magic happen in a ring. Or, failing that, they can make a name for themselves by getting tossed off a 20-foot-high steel cage or some shit. Hey, it worked for Mick Foley!

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 15 Apr 2020 @ 6:29am

            Re:

            Ok, staged ... but that ruins the joke about it being fake

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 14 Apr 2020 @ 2:07pm

    Good to know

    Well, nice of that law firm to make it crystal clear that if you want to file a lawsuit against the state you'd be better off filing on your own before even thinking of hiring them for the job.

    Handy little time and money saver that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 14 Apr 2020 @ 3:29pm

    Q: How do Floridians pronounce 'blithering idiot'?
    A: DeSantis

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Felicia Whi (profile), 16 Apr 2020 @ 4:53am

    Review

    She currently serves as chairwoman of America First Action, a pro-Trump Super PAC. Donald Trump has long-standing ties to the McMahons and WWE, including two WrestleMania appearances and a spot in the “celebrity wing” of the WWE Hall of Fame. Gov. DeSantis saved WWE from breaching their TV contracts and losing hundreds of millions of dollars by allowing WWE shows to continue being aired/taped from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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