Florida Supreme Court Justice backs 'Grim Reaper' lawyer in war with DeSantis

Florida Supreme Court Justice backs 'Grim Reaper' lawyer in war with DeSantis
Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, speaks with members of Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., leadership during the governor's first visit to the base since becoming governor, Jan. 16, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Solomon Cook)

Lawyer Daniel Uhlfelder, better known as the beach Grim Reaper, was one of those who sued Gov. Ron DeSantis during the 2020 season for relaxing the lockdown to ensure tourism. When DeSantis refused to close beaches, Uhlfelder dressed up as the Reaper and went walking through sands as a reminder to folks that they were endangering lives.

Uhlfelder took DeSantis to court which was dismissed, but the three-judge panel on the First District Court of Appeal took things a step further seeking to punish the lawyer for the lawsuit. Earlier this week, the Orlando Sentinelaccused the court of playing favorites, citing a slew of cases against city ordinances by state Rep. Anthony Sabatini.

Now a former Florida Supreme Court Justice is siding with Uhlfelder in his new battle with the First District.

"It is my opinion and legal view that the lawsuit and appeal were not frivolous," said former Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis. "I submit this affidavit because it is my view that legal action, the independence of counsel and requirements that lawyers be strong advocates are pillars of our democracy. The independence of the judiciary is also key to preserving our liberties and independence of counsel essential to our adversarial system."

In the Orlando Sentinel editorial, the paper alleged that the First District Court is playing politics and "persecuting Uhlfelder to send a message that here in Florida, you don't mess with this governor."

Former Justice Lewis appears to agree, as does former First District Court of Appeals Chief Justice Robert Benton, who joined with Lewis in praising Uhlfelder for filing the lawsuit and encouraged him to appeal. Lewis argued that Uhlfelder was expressing his First Amendment rights when he sought legal action during a pandemic.

"When a citizen believes the governor is violating his constitutional duty to preserve the life and well-being of his citizens, he has the right to bring that claim before a court of general jurisdiction and, if the trial court believes it cannot hear it but encourages an appeal, the Floridian has the right to seek an appeal of that decision," wrote Lewis.

Responding to the Bar grievance committee, Uhlfelder's lawyer warned that DeSantis shouldn't "get a blank check" during a national public health crisis. He also argued that if the Florida Bar intends to take action they'll be going down a "very dangerous road that history has shown is rife with problems."

Florida has seen a dramatic increase in hospitalizations and COVID cases as the deadly delta variant has spread through communities there. DeSantis has taken little action to ensure public safety, going so far as to get into a war with communities and school districts that want to require masks while inside.

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