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Florida’s Republican Governor, Accused of Botching COVID-19 Response, Could Be Deposed

Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has been heavily criticized for his delayed response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. He finally issued a stay-at-home order Wednesday afternoon (but only after what’s been perceived as delaying and dithering about whether to treat the global crisis with the severity that public health officials say is necessary).

Now, DeSantis may be deposed in a lawsuit for his decision to wait so long before shutting down the Sunshine State.

Attorney Daniel Uhlfelder filed his suit against DeSantis in late March in an effort to have the state’s beaches closed. That lawsuit quickly morphed into a general demand for the governor to shut down the entire state with a Safer-at-Home order.

“DeSantis’s failure to use the Emergency Powers at his disposal and issue a statewide Beach Closure Order and Safer-at-Home Order is an existential threat to Floridians, many of whom are now more likely to contract this lethal disease than residents of other states,” the lawsuit reads.

“Rather than myopically focusing on visitors from other states or the largest counties, DeSantis must take drastic and uniform action, including but not limited to the issuance of a statewide Beach Closure Order and a Safer-at-Home Order,” Uhlfelder’s lawsuit continues. “DeSantis’s patchwork response is unsustainable, inefficient, dangerous, and unconstitutional in many respects.”

Late Tuesday, Uhlfelder filed a notice that he wished to take a deposition in the case.  Florida courts are deposition-friendly, even in the criminal realm.

“I was going to serve notice of deposition to the Florida Governor tomorrow for my lawsuit against him for failing to shutdown the state but this is a matter of life and death so I notified him tonight,” the attorney said. “We have also filed for discovery and will see what the truth is.”

The filing begins with the usual recitals:

YOU ARE HEREBY COMMANDED to appear before a person authorized by law to take depositions at the law office of The Kitchen Law Firm, 103 N. Meridian Street, Tallahassee, FL32301, on Wednesday, April 22, 2020 commencing at approximately 9:00 a.m. (ET), for the taking of your deposition in the [state closure case].

“[The] deposition will be taken upon oral examination before an officer authorized by law to administer oaths at the location specified above,” the filing continues. “The deposition will be taken for all purposes permitted under the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure including, but not limited to as discovery, for use at trial, or for such other purposes as are permitted by law.”

Filing a notice of taking deposition, however, does not automatically mean that the person targeted will or must appear to be deposed.  DeSantis is likely to resist the court-filed notice, and there are various procedural methods he might employ to do so, such as filing an appeal or a motion to quash.  Those options require getting a court to sign off on them.

The lawsuit also seeks an expansive array of discovery documents from DeSantis and his administration over their decision-making process in response to the coronavirus crisis.

Uhlfelder, who is currently on his way to a hearing over the lawsuit, is requesting all “recordings, transcripts, written statements or other reductions to writing of interviews or conversations” related to the various executive orders and the governor’s failure to issue them sooner than he did — even as it became clear to various public health officials that such orders were necessary to maintain Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) social distancing guidelines.

The discovery request goes on to demand, among other things:

Any and all documents or communications pertaining to the Defendant’s failure to issue a Safer-at-Home Order.

…Any and all documents or communications pertaining to COVID-19.

…Any and all documents or communications from the Federal Government pertaining to COVID-19.

…Any and all documents or communications pertaining to the Resources available for use in Florida to assist in combatting [sic] the COVID-19 outbreak.

As noted, DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order mid-afternoon on Wednesday.

During a press conference, the heavily-criticized GOP governor said: “That order will be coming out momentarily. It will be going into effect tomorrow night at midnight.”

Uhlfelder was largely unmoved by the announcement.

“We’re still going through the order,” Uhlfelder told Law&Crime during a phone call. “With this guy, you’ve to be real careful. He’s kind of squirrelly. We’re evaluating and looking at next steps. This [lawsuit] is not done. We’ve got to have assurances that this will protect the public.”

Law&Crime has previously noted that as the various states seek to seal their own borders, it is the federal government’s job to deal with contagions which cross state lines.

[Image via Joe Raedle/Getty Images.]

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