The Editorial Board of the Orlando Sentinel is accusing a Florida court of playing politics with a lawyer known for attacking Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and his role in making the COVID crisis worse.
Attorney Dan Uhlfelder became known during the pandemic for walking around beaches dressed as the Grim Reaper, but he also sued the DeSantis administration for opening beaches despite the spread of COVID-19. As a result of his lawsuit and a quip Uhlfelder made about it, the three-judge panel on the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee are demanding an investigation into him for misconduct and criminal contempt of court.
"Uhlfelder's case for closing beaches might have been thin legal gruel, and his comment about the court's ruling less than prudent, but does that warrant a two-megaton nuclear response from the appeal court?" asked the Sentinel. "No, it didn't."
The column noted that it was more than clear the beaches were unsafe as Spring Breakers flooded the shores of Florida. Tectonix GEO and X-Mode Social used cell phone data to follow those who were in Florida for Spring Break and where they went after the holiday was over. The data then showed COVID cases spiked in those areas, proving that the 2020 Spring Break was a super spreader event that hurt states across the country. That was at a time that the virus wasn't nearly as contagious as the new delta variant.
The Sentinel thinks that the real issue appears to be the fact that Uhlfelder caused embarrassment to DeSantis. It isn't the first time DeSantis loyalists have lashed out at those being critical of his response to the coronavirus crisis. Former data analyst Rebekah Jones was raided by state police after she filed a whistleblower complaint saying she was fired for refusing to doctor COVID data to downplay the cases in the state.
"If the court finds attention-getting lawsuits so off-putting, we're surprised a judge didn't go after Republican state Rep. Anthony Sabatini of Lake County, who had been a member of the Florida Bar for less than a year when he started firing off lawsuits last summer challenging county and city mask ordinances," wrote the Sentinel. "He filed at least 15, racking up a remarkable record of legal losses in the process."
In that case, the First District Court of Appeals allowed Sabatini to submit frivolous lawsuits, dismissing them "with a yawn. No tough talk. No investigations."
"The First District Court is earning a reputation for writing reliably conservative opinions," said the editorial board. "It overturned a recent ruling that stayed DeSantis' ban on mask mandates in schools. It took a simple workers' compensation claim and turned it into an opportunity for insurance companies to withhold payments for medical marijuana. Using Marsy's Law as an excuse, it granted anonymity to police officers who shoot suspects. It gave the go-ahead for oil drilling in the Everglades."
Sabatini was warned against frivolous lawsuits, Uhlfelder was encouraged to appeal by the judge in his first case, calling his suit "in good faith."
"But now, the appeal court wants to instead punish an attorney who also happens to be a chief tormentor of the governor. You might think those legions of Republicans who have suddenly become free-speech advocates would be worried about the chilling effect of the First District's rulings regarding Uhlfelder," the board said.
They closed by saying that this isn't what courts are supposed to be and it appears that they're "persecuting Uhlfelder to send a message that here in Florida, you don't mess with this governor."