Two former high-ranking Florida judges are standing up for a lawyer who posed as the Grim Reaper on beaches last summer to criticize GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis’ handling of COVID-19 and even filed a lawsuit to force DeSantis to close beaches in the state.
When a lower court ruled against the attorney, Daniel Uhlfelder, he appealed. But then the conservative First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee referred him to the Florida Bar for discipline, calling his appeal frivolous earlier this year, and later appeared to retaliate after he spoke to the press, ordering that he be investigated for misconduct and contempt of court.
Former Justice R. Fred Lewis, who served on the Florida State Supreme Court for more than 20 years, filed an affidavit earlier this week defending Uhlfelder in the ongoing Bar Association investigation. He wrote that the lawyer had every right to sue — and appeal.
“When a citizen believes the governor is violating his constitutional duty to preserve the life and well-being of his citizens, he has the right to bring that claim before a court of general jurisdiction, and, if the trial court believes it cannot hear it but encourages an appeal, the Floridian has the right to seek an appeal of that decision,” Lewis wrote.
“It is my view that legal action, the independence of counsel and requirements that lawyers be strong advocates are pillars of our democracy,” Lewis added.
Former First District Court of Appeals Chief Justice Robert Benton also filed an affidavit on Uhlfelder’s behalf, calling the “independence of the judiciary ... key to preserving our liberties, and [the] independence of counsel essential to our adversarial system.”
Meanwhile, an editorial in the Orlando Sentinel this week said the appeals court “looks to be persecuting Uhlfelder to send a message that here in Florida, you don’t mess with this governor.”
Uhlfelder first started stalking Florida’s beaches as the Grim Reaper in May 2020 as the state started to reopen early on in the coronavirus pandemic.
On Twitter on Thursday, he appeared pleased to be referred to as the governor’s “chief tormentor” in the Sentinel op-ed and posted a chart of Florida’s skyrocketing COVID-19 deaths.
The state hit close to a total of 51,000 deaths from COVID on Monday. At least 2,400 Floridians died just the first two weeks of September.
Cases in the state, however, are beginning to drop, with 9,760 reported on Thursday. That put the seven-day average to 11,816 cases, the lowest since July 22, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.