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Court rejects appeal for open records in migrant flights case

DeSantis speaking behind the podium
Gov. Ron DeSantis
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Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions about flights that transported undocumented immigrants to out-of-state “sanctuary” communities during a 2022 press conference.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal upheld a ruling that dismissed the lawsuit filed by the Florida Center for Government Accountability, an open-government group.

An appeals court Friday sided with the Florida Department of Transportation and a contractor in a public-records lawsuit stemming from controversial state-funded flights of migrants from Texas to Massachusetts.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal upheld a ruling last year by Leon County Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey that dismissed the lawsuit filed by the Florida Center for Government Accountability, an open-government group.

The appellate panel, made up of Judges Joseph Lewis, M. Kemmerly Thomas and Adam Tanenbaum, did not explain its decision.

The non-profit center contended in the lawsuit that the Department of Transportation and the contractor, Vertol Systems Company, Inc., violated the state’s public-records law by not fully providing requested documents about the September 2022 flights of 49 migrants from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard.

The flights, engineered by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration, have drawn national scrutiny.

In two rulings, Dempsey concluded that the center did not prove the department and Vertol withheld documents.

“The burden is on the plaintiff to prove they made a specific request for public records, that Vertol received the request, the requested public records exist and Vertol refused to provide them in a timely manner,” Dempsey wrote in one of the decisions. “While plaintiff meets the first and second prongs of the test, there is no evidence that the public records exist or that Vertol refused to produce public records in a timely manner.”