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FL governor's counsel allegedly pressured Miami Herald law firm to drop public records law suit: report

FL governor's counsel allegedly pressured Miami Herald law firm to drop public records law suit: report

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisFlorida become the third state to cross 1 million COVID-19 cases The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans MORE's (R) general counsel allegedly reached out to the law firm who represents the Miami Herald and pressured them not to file a lawsuit from the Herald that would force the state to release the names of all senior care facilities that have reported a positive coronavirus test.

The law firm Holland & Knight, which usually provides legal counsel for the paper, allegedly told senior partner Sanford Bohrer to drop the case, according to the Herald.

“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,” Herald publisher and executive editor Aminda Marqués González said.

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She added: “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.”

Marqués said that the lawsuit would still be filed, just with another law firm.

The complaint reportedly doesn't seek the names of residents or employees who tested positive, just the name of the facilities, according to the newspaper.

DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Ferré denied any attempt by the governor's office to strong-arm the Herald.

"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," she said, according to the Herald.

“It is normal practice for attorneys to use the filing of the five-day legal notice to see if there is a possible resolution to avoid unnecessary litigation," she continued. "That was the reason General Counsel Joe Jacquot made a call to Holland & Knight attorney George Meros.”

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The lawsuit came to be after the Herald allegedly requested public records from the Florida Department of Health and Agency for Health Care Administration on March 23.

However, DeSantis's office allegedly refused to the release data about where residents and workers were exposed to COVID-19, releasing only the name of one facility where six residents died from the disease.

Per Florida state law, records are considered public unless the possessor can provide a legal basis for withholding them.

The state's Health Department, as of Saturday, reported 787 residents and workers from long-term care facilities that have tested positive for the disease. 

Overall, Florida has almost 19,000 cases of the virus, with over 400 deaths.