DeSantis Loses COVID Lawsuit, Forced to Release Stats and Pay $152.5k in Legal Fees: “We Prevailed”

DeSantis Loses COVID Lawsuit, Forced to Release Stats and Pay $152.5k in Legal Fees: “We Prevailed”
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Roy Rochlin

Florida's Republican governor Ron DeSantis and his administration lost a case and must once again regularly release COVID-19 data to the general public.

Two years ago, the DeSantis administration decided to stop publishing COVID-19 data on the virus' transmission. The Department of Health was sued by then-Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith after they turned down his request for access to COVID-19 data in 2021, ABC News reported. The Florida Center for Government Accountability later joined him. On October 9, the DeSantis administration was forced to settle after losing the case.

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The settlement mandates that the department make COVID-19 data available to the public for the following three years, including weekly statistics on cases, deaths, and vaccinations by county, age group, gender, and race, per a press release by Smith. They must also release $152,000 to reimburse the plaintiffs' legal expenses.

“All Floridians have a constitutional right to public records and the right to receive critical public health data in a timely manner," Smith said. "The Department lied about the existence of these public records in court and did everything to restrict information and downplay the threat of COVID."


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In June 2021, Florida ceased posting daily COVID-19 data to its online dashboard, reporting a drop in cases and a rise in vaccinations. Later, several states followed suit. “They were hiding this information from the public,” Michael Barfield said. When the Delta variant outbreak was at its worst, the information was suppressed just as schools were attempting to use it to decide when to reopen and how to mitigate the situation, per Meidas Touch Network

Many First Amendment organizations think that the settlement is a significant victory for those who wish to request and get public records under Florida's Sunshine Act.

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In a statement to WESH news in Orlando, former state representative Carlos Guillermo Smith claimed that the state had "lied to the Judge." He said, “They know that they lied to the Judge in court when they didn't have these COVID-19 records, and that was the reason they weren't producing them," Guillermo Smith said. "They know that they were wrong. They know they broke the law. And our lawsuit caught them red-handed.”

As part of the settlement, the Department of Health stated that it had always given the data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and made no admissions of wrongdoing. Smith and the Florida Center for Government Accountability were blasted by department spokesperson Jae Williams III in an email, who called the case a political gimmick. “It is unfortunate that we have continued to waste government resources arguing over the formatting of data with armchair epidemiologists who have zero training or expertise,” Williams said.


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