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Florida judge orders DeSantis to turn over records on migrant flights to Martha's Vineyard

An open government group sued for records related to the controversial move.
on May 4, 2021 file photo shows Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, center, speaks during a news conference at West Miami Middle School in Miami.  Several states scaled back their reporting of COVID-19 statistics this July 2021, just as cases across the country started to skyrocket, depriving the public of real-time information on outbreaks, cases, hospitalizations and deaths in their communities.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in Miami on May 4, 2021.Matias J. Ocner / Miami Herald via AP file

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis must turn over records in connection with migrant flights his administration chartered from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, a Florida judge ruled Tuesday, saying it failed to comply with the state’s public records law after an open government group sued for the information.

Circuit Judge J. Lee Marsh ordered the administration to provide the records sought by the group, the Florida Center for Government Accountability, within 20 days of his ruling, said Michael Barfield, the organization's director of public access. Marsh rejected arguments from DeSantis’ lawyers that they should be permitted to wait until Dec. 1 to turn over the records, which include a request for phone and text logs of the governor’s chief of staff, James Uthmeier.

DeSantis’ office did not reply to a request for comment on the ruling, which was reported by The Miami Herald.

The Florida Center for Government Accountability alleged in its suit this month that the delay by the governor’s office in turning over records is unjustified.

The group tweeted that it was “very pleased" with the judge's ruling, saying, “It’s a great day for the Public Records Act and the right to know what our government is doing!”

Barfield said the group views the ruling as "an important victory for the public's right to know."

"This is a very important signal to DeSantis that he is not immune from the law and he must comply with that," Barfield said.

Last month, DeSantis chartered planes carrying about 50 migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, escalating a tactic first used by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to draw attention to what they consider to be the Biden administration’s failed border policies. Abbott has sent thousands of migrants to New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C., liberal strongholds that bill themselves as “sanctuary cities” for migrants.

DeSantis’ move drew widespread backlash and led to lawsuitsquestions about the contract and his reported use of migrant labor to coordinate the effort, and a Texas criminal investigation over whether the migrants were misled.