State appeals court hears case on public records requests for migrant flights

by | Jun 13, 2023

  • The Florida appeals court heard arguments about whether Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration violated public records law by not adequately providing documents on migrant flights.
  • The judges deliberated on determining a reasonable timeframe for a response, considering factors such as Hurricane Ian and the prioritization of government functions.
  • Lawyers representing the Plaintiffs contended that a prompt response to public records requests are a statutory and constitutional requirement.

A Florida appeals court on Tuesday heard oral arguments relating to a previously-ruled upon dispute regarding whether Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration violated the state’s public records law by failing to adequately provide documents pertaining to flights that transported migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

In October of last year, a circuit court issued a ruling in favor of the Florida Center for Government Accountability, a non-profit watchdog group, after the organization filed a public records request following confirmation that the State of Florida was involved in transporting around 50 alleged illegal migrants across state lines.

The plaintiffs had filed a lawsuit, asserting that the Executive Office of the Governor (EOG) had failed to comply with public records laws. The circuit court agreed with the Center’s claim and ordered the EOG to provide any relevant documents.

A panel of three judges, Bradford L. Thomas; Timothy D. Osterhaus; and Thomas D. Winkour, presided over Tuesday’s case but did not reach a verdict. The current time frame for a decision to be reached is currently unknown.

During oral arguments, lawyers representing the plaintiffs pointed to a constitutional requirement requiring prompt responses to records requests, referring to the matter as a public entitlement.

“It is a Constitutional entitlement to immediate access,” said attorney Andrea Mogenson. “How the agency attends to this responsibility — a statutory responsibility, and under Chapter 119 it’s a constitutional responsibility — is outside of the reach of this court, and I think that’s the only thing these parties will agree on. But the fact that they do not properly attend to that does not result in the watering down of that responsibility. You can’t let 150 public records requests go unfulfilled for two years.”

The trio of judges deliberated on determining a reasonable timeframe for a proper response, considering various possibilities including twenty, thirty, and fifty days. They additionally took into account the impact of Hurricane Ian, which made landfall two days after the records request was submitted, and how it may have contributed to the delay in response.

“Does any party has a right to demand that their public records request take precedence over core functions of government, like attending to a major hurricane or another public records request,” said Thomas. “Other public requests were previously filed before yours.”


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