Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) must turn over records connected with migrant flights from Texas to Massachusetts, a Florida judge ruled Tuesday, saying his administration failed to comply with the state’s public records law.
The governor’s office says it intends to appeal, claiming that DeSantis provided “a significant number” of documents despite being preoccupied with Hurricane Ian at the time.
This month, the open government group Florida Center for Government Accountability, or FLCGA, filed a lawsuit seeking to compel DeSantis to release public records related to two charter flights he ordered that took 48 migrants, many of them Venezuelan, from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
A judge in Leon County, Florida, J. Lee Marsh, ruled against the governor and ordered his office to turn over public records that FLCGA requested within 20 days. These records include phone and text logs of James Uthmeier, the governor’s chief of staff, who helped transport migrants to Martha’s Vineyard.
The governor’s office did not show “any steps, direct steps taken to gather what this court finds are public records,” Marsh said.
“We disagree with the court’s ruling and intend to appeal,” DeSantis’ office told HuffPost.
“This records request came amid a historically devastating hurricane and the Executive Office of the Governor was focused on supporting the needs and recovery of Floridians from Hurricane Ian. Regardless, we have already produced a significant number of documents and, as we have already stated, continue to endeavor to do so in a timely manner.”
DeSantis is also facing lawsuits from migrants who were left stranded after being flown to the Massachusetts island. A Texas sheriff is also investigating whether the migrants, who were given false promises of work and shelter before they were flown to Massachusetts as a political stunt, were defrauded.
Another investigation, launched in October by the Treasury Department’s inspector general, is investigating whether DeSantis “improperly used” money from COVID-19 aid to pay for the flights.