In this period of extraordinary secrecy, stonewalling and willfully refusing to comply with public records laws, the people of Florida can celebrate a rare legal victory in the long and frustrating road to transparency.
The state Department of Health, under the control of Gov. Ron DeSantis, this week settled a public records lawsuit filed by a former state legislator and a nonpartisan government watchdog group in a case that literally involved life and death. It took more than two years, and the stubborn defiance of the DeSantis administration cost taxpayers more than $150,000. But accountability prevailed.
Former state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat from Orlando, sued the Department of Health and its former director, Dr. Scott Rivkees, in August 2021 over the agency’s refusal to release relevant public information about COVID-19 cases. The Florida Center for Governmental Accountability represented Smith and several news organizations, including the Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald and others, intervened in the case on Smith’s side and cited similar requests by news reporters that the state denied.