Ron DeSantis takes a major blow after losing this high-stakes court case

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is trying to focus on his campaign for President. But he’s got a roadblock.

Because Ron DeSantis has taken a major blow after he lost this high-stakes court case.

The Florida Department of Health and Governor Ron DeSantis have settled a lawsuit over the state’s refusal to turn over comprehensive COVID-19 data relating to 2021 infections and vaccines. As part of the settlement, the state will post the coronavirus data on its website and pay attorneys’ fees for trying to avoid complying with state public records law.

According to the terms of the settlement announced by the Florida Center for Government Accountability on Monday, a non-profit public records watchdog that had sued the state on former state Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith’s behalf, will receive $152,250 in legal fees and the department will be required to publish specified COVID-19 data on the Florida Department of Health website.

“The department lied about the existence of these public records in court and did everything to restrict information and downplay the threat of COVID even while the Delta variant ripped through Florida — a decision that cost many lives,” said Smith, an Orlando Democrat.

In August 2021, Smith, who was a member of the House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee at the time, filed a lawsuit against the state after he submitted a public documents request to the Department of Health for specific data on COVID-19 cases in his home county.

The First Amendment Foundation and a number of news organizations, including the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times, filed the complaint.

A third wave of cases was growing in Florida, and hospitalizations were on the rise, but the state was changing the way it reported death data to the CDC, so it looked like the pandemic was winding down, according to an analysis by the Miami Herald.

The organization had also begun tweeting a series of complaints, in which it accused the CDC of posting erroneous COVID data points. The COVID-19 dashboard was decommissioned by the health department in June 2021, and weekly reports have since replaced it.

In August, however, when Smith requested the specifics, the agency informed him that the data he was looking for was no longer public and subject to confidentiality under state law. The Florida League of Counties Government Officials (FLCGA) issued a public documents request on August 16, 2021, and it was denied for the same grounds. After a few days, they decided to file a lawsuit.

Smith and FLCGA asked the court to compel an agency official to testify in a deposition regarding the department’s decision making process. A protective order filed by the Department of Health to prohibit the deposition was granted by Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper in January 2022.

The agency filed an appeal, claiming that the requested records were nonexistent. After an appeals court affirmed a lower court’s order compelling an agency official to testify under oath, the documents were finally released in March 2023.

As part of the settlement, the Department of Health must report weekly aggregated data on COVID-19 cases, vaccination rates, and deaths by county, age group, gender, and race for the next three years.

Surely, this lawsuit was designed to be a political attack on Ron DeSantis and his administration from the beginning. Of that, there is no doubt.

However, it does come at a bad time for the Florida Governor. While Ron DeSantis does still carry a very high approval rating for a high-profile politician in America these days, his campaign for President has not been faring so well lately.

Some polls show him slipping into a third place position for the upcoming Republican primary race when at one point he seemed to be a clear favorite in the height of the summer of 2022.

Now Nikki Haley is coming up behind him quick, and Donald Trump continues to be a juggernaut that no one can seem to get close to. Polls regularly show the former President up anywhere from twenty to fourty points ahead of the next closest competitor.

So, this news of a settlement that doesn’t look super good for the DeSantis administration is not what he was hoping for at all. He’s still looking to gain the trust of the average conservative voter to prove to them that he will serve them well as the next President of the United States.

No doubt, 2023 has not been kind to the popular Governor from Florida, which makes you wonder if he will choose to bow out of the race for President and potentially hold off for a 2028 run instead.

Stay tuned to the DC Daily Journal.

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