As Gov. Ron DeSantis has waged an aggressive battle on what he considers “woke” tradition, his concepts have come beneath fierce authorized hearth, with greater than 15 lawsuits difficult his insurance policies.
4 non-public legislation corporations — every with deep connections to Republican Occasion politics — have been employed to defend the state, and the associated fee to Florida taxpayers is not less than $16.7 million, in accordance with a Tampa Bay Occasions/Miami Herald evaluate of state monetary transactions.
The agency that has raked in essentially the most cash — $5.9 million — is the boutique Washington, D.C. legislation agency of Cooper & Kirk. When Florida retained the agency in 2019, one in all its prime legal professionals was Adam Laxalt, a Republican former Nevada legal professional common who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate this yr. Laxalt was DeSantis’ roommate throughout coaching on the Naval Justice Faculty in 2005 and the governor endorsed and raised cash for Laxalt’s failed Senate marketing campaign.
The Cooper & Kirk agency is a favourite amongst D.C. conservatives. It represented U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, throughout his 2016 marketing campaign for Missouri legal professional common and beforehand employed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas.
The agency’s co-founder, Charles Cooper, represented Florida earlier than the U.S. Court docket of Appeals for the eleventh Circuit in its felons voting case and within the state’s protection of its Cease W.O.Ok.E Act, which prohibits public colleges and universities from enabling frank discussions in regards to the nation’s racial historical past in lecture rooms. Cooper additionally represented former U.S. Lawyer Common Jeff Periods within the Justice Division’s investigations into Russian election interference.
The quantity the state gave to the legislation agency began small. In 2019, the DeSantis administration signed a contract to pay Cooper & Kirk $250,000 to defend the state legislation that severely undercut Modification 4, a constitutional modification handed by voters in 2018 that overturned the state’s lifetime ban on voting for almost all folks convicted of felonies. By the point the case was accomplished in December 2020, Florida taxpayers had given the legislation agency $475,000, data present.
In 2021, the DeSantis administration paid the Cooper & Kirk legislation agency one other $800,000, this time to defend the Florida Division of Well being’s ban on cruise ship COVID-19 “vaccine passport” necessities. The state paid $3 million for the agency to additionally defend the Division of Administration Providers, which was tasked with implementing the controversial social media legislation that was efficiently challenged by Massive Tech firms.
The agency with the following largest e-book of enterprise defending the governor’s tradition battle insurance policies is GrayRobinson, which has been paid a complete of $5.2 million for work defending DeSantis insurance policies, state data present.
The Florida-based agency has 14 places of work in Florida and one in Washington, D.C. It has a protracted historical past of present and former Florida elected officers amongst its high-ranking workers.
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The agency’s legal professionals, George Levesque and Jeff Aaron, lead the governor’s protection within the First Modification case introduced towards the state by suspended Hillsborough County State Lawyer Andrew Warren, whom DeSantis ousted as a result of Warren signed a pledge to not implement Florida’s new 15-week abortion restriction. In keeping with buy orders registered with the state, the agency has been paid $1.7 million thus far for the Warren case. Subsequent month, they are going to head to trial defending the state legislation requiring viewpoint surveys on faculty campuses.
A Washington, D.C. agency with a specialty in election legislation, Holzman Vogel LLC, has been paid $3.9 million to defend the DeSantis administration’s election legal guidelines. The agency’s founder and managing accomplice is Jill Holtzman Vogel, a former chief counsel to the Republican Nationwide Committee who now serves within the Virginia State Senate. Not too long ago, the agency opened a Tallahassee workplace and employed DeSantis’ former deputy common counsel Josh Pratt.
The majority of the cash to Holzman Vogel went to defending the secretary of state’s workplace towards challenges to the state’s 2020 election reform legislation that restricted vote-by-mail and third-party voter registration. The agency can be defending the governor’s workplace within the redistricting problem. The unique contract for $165,000 has had complete funds of $625,000 thus far, state data present.
Holland & Knight, a Florida-based agency the place DeSantis as soon as had a job as a civil litigator legal professional, was paid $1.7 million in 2019 and 2020 to signify the state within the felons voting lawsuit and to defend the Division of State in a lawsuit making an attempt to pressure the state to switch elections rules to handle well being dangers posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
DeSantis has additionally used the state enterprise to exert leverage over the corporations. In April 2020, after the Miami Herald’s lawyer at Holland & Knight despatched a requirement letter upfront of submitting a public data lawsuit that might pressure the state to disclose the names of all elder-care amenities which have had a constructive check for the coronavirus, the governor’s common counsel Joe Jacquot made a telephone name to Holland & Knight accomplice George Meros.
After the decision, Meros informed his colleague Sanford Bohrer, who was instantly representing the Herald, to desert the lawsuit. Bohrer did, however informed the paper. Bohrer, who has since retired, informed Legislation.com this yr that he “was informed to face down. I stated OK, however I’m telling the Herald why. My guess is the agency was attempting to get in, or keep in, the nice graces of the governor.”
George Meros left Holland & Knight in August 2020 and now’s a accomplice within the Tallahassee workplace of Shutts & Bowen. His son, Nick Meros, is at the moment DeSantis’s deputy common counsel. Since Meros left Holland & Knight, the agency has not dealt with any new work defending the DeSantis administration however Shutts & Bowen, which has lengthy defended the state in a number of pending lawsuits, notably because it pertains to medical marijuana, has been paid $685,000 to defend the governor’s new insurance policies, state data present.
Correction: This text has been up to date to right a reference to Ron DeSantis’ work for Holland & Knight. He was a civil litigator throughout his time with the agency.