TALLAHASSEE – A Northwest Florida attorney denies that a judge in a Northwest Florida court “clearly promoted” an appeal and denies his decision to pursue Governor Ron DeSantis for closing COVID-19 beaches was frivolous or malicious.
Santa Rosa Beach attorney Daniel Uhlfelder, who filed a lawsuit this spring to force DeSantis to shut down beaches nationwide to prevent the disease from spreading, responded Friday to an order from the 1st District Court of Appeals, to show why he and his lawyers should not face sanctions for pursuing the appeal.
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A panel of the Tallahassee-based Court of Appeal dismissed the case on Nov. 13, suggesting that Uhlfelder’s appeal and other documents “appear frivolous and / or malicious.”
However, in Friday’s 19-page response, Uhlfelder and attorneys Gautier Kitchen and Marie Mattox cited comments made by Leon County Circuit judge Kevin Carroll in April ruling the Uhlfelder case. After this decision, Uhlfelder appealed.
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In response, for example, Carroll was quoted as saying that Uhlfelder “has an understandable concern that he has raised here, and I believe he has followed up this matter in good faith and is seeking what he believes to be an appropriate response to the COVID- Crisis.”
In response, Carroll was also quoted as saying that he “dismissed the case with prejudice so that you can take me to the First Ward immediately. Because I think this is a matter of importance and I think it is a matter of time and if the First Ward tells me that I am wrong and I have the authority, then I am glad to go into it and move on there . “
The response focused in part on these comments to show that the calling was not frivolous. The references to Carroll’s “biased” decision meant that his decision at the county court level was final.
“The court not only expressly stated that Mr. Uhlfelder was acting in good faith, but also announced his intention to reject the case without prejudice in order to enable an immediate examination by this (appeals) court due to the importance of the question asked. Said the answer. “The court expressly recognized Mr. Uhlfelder’s legitimate concern for the people of Florida.” While the learned trial judge did not specifically instruct Mr. Uhlfelder to accept the appeal, for which he and his lawyers must now give a reason why they should not be sanctioned, the court clearly encouraged the appeal. “
Uhlfelder has drawn national attention by appearing publicly disguised as a Grim Reaper and criticizing the state’s handling of the pandemic. He filed the lawsuit in late March, arguing that the governor should be required to shut down beaches across the country and issue an order preventing home safety.
DeSantis issued a “Safer Home” order but refused to close beaches nationwide, despite some local governments temporarily imposing beach closures.
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In his April ruling against Uhlfelder, Carroll said the state constitution gives the governor discretion in handling emergencies.
“I believe I am being asked to replace the governor’s judgment on how to respond to this COVID crisis that has been a moving target,” Carroll said during a phone hearing at the time. “There are 599 judges in Florida last, and I don’t think we need 599 governors waiting for us.”
Carroll also said DeSantis’s actions regarding beach closings and staying at home orders would violate constitutional restrictions on separation of powers.
In the order of November 13, with which the case was rejected, the appellate court stated that it had “examined the pleadings and other documents in this case and found that the complainant (Uhlfelder) did not even provide evidence of a disputed legal basis for the withdrawal” . The possibility was opened to impose sanctions on Uhlfelder and his lawyers, including legal fees and costs.
However, Friday’s response stated that the gravity of the judgment under appeal was that the governor’s discretion in handling emergencies was not subject to judicial review. To argue differently in the appeal proceedings meant an essential question for the examination and decision of the (appeal) court. There was no intent to insult or otherwise humiliate the court. “
It is also said that similar cases have occurred in other parts of the country.
“Although this court does not agree that the requested relief from Mr. Uhlfelder was deserved, the appeal, the first pleading and the request for an oral hearing were not frivolous and were not submitted in bad faith,” the answer said. “From the start of this litigation and until this response was filed, the world has been ravaged by the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. Citizens and lawyers across the country have sought relief from various courts to protect the health and wellbeing of individuals. As far as our research has shown, no citizen or lawyer has been fined for it. “