PUNTA GORDA, Fla.–A Florida Circuit Judge has ordered Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to turn over records relating to the Sept. 14 migrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard, an “exclusive haven” in Massachusetts.
On Oct. 25, Leon County Circuit Judge J. Lee Marsh gave the DeSantis administration 20 days to provide records requested by the Florida Center for Government Accountability, stating that the administration did not comply with the state’s public-records law concerning the flights.
Before Marsh’s ruling, Andrew King, an attorney for DeSantis, argued that the administration was “working to fulfill numerous records requests stemming from the migrant flights.” He accused the center of “weaponizing” the public-records law to get ahead of other people or organizations seeking records.
“We’re diligently working to provide all of these Martha’s Vineyard records to all of the people who have asked,” King told the court.
The judge did not agree with King’s “weaponizing” argument.
“They’re just using the statute the Legislature passed,” Marsh said in response.
However, Andrea Flynn Mogensen, an attorney for the center, said the administration’s arguments about a backlog of requests is “evidence of delay” and violates the public-records law.
“We’re being told, ‘you’re in line, get in line and stay in line,’” she said in court.
The judge indicated he was being generous with the 20-day deadline after the attorneys for DeSantis asked for more time; he said he could have allowed only 48 hours. Marsh said in his order that phone or text logs could provide information about communications regarding the flights by DeSantis Chief of Staff James Uthmeier, who helped coordinate transportation of the 48 illegal immigrants, mostly from Venezuela, to Martha’s Vineyard, according to reports.
In addition to the phone records from Uthmeier, the center sought records concerning communications with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office about relocating the migrants.
While the DeSantis administration has released some records, the center said in the lawsuit that the release was not “responsive” to the requests.
Michael Barfield, director of public access for the center, told reporters that the judge’s verbal ruling held the governor “accountable for delays” in providing public records. The center filed the lawsuit on Oct. 10 after alleging that the governor’s office did not comply with requests that were made on Sept. 21 and Sept. 22.
Nicholas Meros, another DeSantis attorney, indicated through statements made in court that the judge’s ruling could make way for an appeal.
Mogensen told reporters after the hearing that she “expects an appeal.”
Another lawsuit, also in Leon County circuit court, was filed by North Miami Beach Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat, alleging that the DeSantis administration violated the state’s Constitution and a separate law that required the migrants be moved out of Florida.
A federal class-action suit was also filed by attorneys representing some of the asylum seekers that were flown to Martha’s Vineyard from Texas. It named DeSantis, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue, and others who “helped recruit” the immigrants to get on the flight from Texas.
DeSantis ordered the flights last month as part of a migrant relocation program, for which the state legislature approved $12 million in the budget last March. The governor had warned in numerous press conferences that he would fly migrants attempting to enter Florida to sanctuary states and cities. Critics called his actions “inhumane stunts” that used the migrants as “political pawns.”
However, concerning the flights to Martha’s Vineyard—which has been described as the “exclusive haven of the Eastern liberal elite”—the migrants were flown from Texas, with a stop-over at an airport in Crestview, a Panhandle community on Sept. 14.
The governor’s office has maintained that the migrants at the border indicated they wanted to travel to Florida, but Florida does not allow undocumented immigrants into the state.
“Florida is not a sanctuary state,” the governor has stated in press conferences in the past few months.