Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' general counsel pressured a law firm representing the Miami Herald to stop the filing of a public records lawsuit seeking information from state officials about which elderly-care facilities in Florida had coronavirus cases, the newspaper reported Sunday.
The backdoor pressure worked as the Holland & Knight law firm told its senior partner representing the newspaper to abandon the lawsuit, which the Herald is now pursuing using another law firm, the newspaper said.
Holland & Knight regularly does work for the state.
“We are disappointed that the governor’s office would go so far as to apply pressure on our legal counsel to prevent the release of public records that are critical to the health and safety of Florida’s most vulnerable citizens,” said Miami Herald publisher and executive editor Aminda Marqués González. “We shouldn’t have had to resort to legal action in the first place. Anyone with a relative in an elder care facility has a right to know if their loved ones are at risk so they can make an informed decision about their care.”
A spokeswoman for Holland & Knight did not immediately respond to an email inquiry Sunday seeking comment.
Helen Ferre, a spokeswoman for the governor, told the Herald there was no effort to strong-arm the newspaper. It's normal practice for lawyers on both sides of pending litigation to talk to see if there's a way to resolve the conflict outside a courtroom, she said.
“It is patently false to say that the governor’s office contacted Holland & Knight to ask that the firm not file a lawsuit on behalf of The Miami Herald," Ferre told the newspaper.
The Herald’s lawyers had drafted the lawsuit this past week and planned to file the petition in Leon County against DeSantis’ office, the Florida Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration.
DeSantis' general counsel, Joe Jacquot, said he never asked the firm not to represent the Herald during his conversation with Holland & Knight attorney George Meros.
“I said, ‘Hey, we got this letter and it’s a pre-suit letter. Let me know if Holland & Knight wants to discuss it,'" Jacquot said. “George just said, ‘OK, I’ll get back to you’.”
The Holland & Knight attorney for the newspaper said he was told to stand down after the conversation between Jacquot and Meros.
“They asked us not to file this lawsuit on behalf of the Herald,” said Sanford Bohrer. “They did not want Holland & Knight to represent the Herald.”