TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Days after The Florida Bar asked Florida Bar to consider sanctioning an attorney who made headlines across the country by disguising himself as the Grim Reaper to criticize Governor Ron DeSantis’ response to the coronavirus pandemic An appeals court took the rare step of ordering a prosecutor to exercise discipline against Santa Rosa Beach attorney Daniel Uhlfelder.
A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal asked the bar on Friday to consider imposing sanctions on Uhlfelder for appealing a lawsuit to force DeSantis to leave the state’s beaches during the Pandemic close. The panel said there was “no basis in good faith” for the appeal and accused Uhlfelder and his lawyers of “using this court merely as a stage to play their version of political theater”.
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In response to the decision, Uhlfelder made comments that appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat, calling on the appellate court on Monday to go ahead and instruct Northwest Florida Attorney Ginger Bowden Madden to “file a motion for discipline” from Uhlfelder on ” allegedly unprofessional behavior ”.
“It is almost unprecedented for a court to refer a matter to the prosecutor for discipline or other action against a lawyer. I can’t say it never happened, but it’s almost unprecedented, ”Tallahassee attorney Richard Greenberg, who represents Uhlfelder on the disciplinary matter, told Florida Intelligence on Thursday.
Uhlfelder, who has traveled the state in a macabre Grim Reaper costume to criticize DeSantis, filed the lawsuit in March to force the governor to shut down beaches to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Leon County Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll ruled that he lacked the authority to order the governor to shut down the beaches, leading Uhlfelder to take the case to the 1st District Court of Appeals.
The court’s order on Friday to ask the bar to investigate Uhlfelder’s actions did not include financial sanctions for pursuing the appeal, which the panel believed appeared to be “frivolously and / or maliciously”.
Florida Intelligence wrote about the order in a story posted online Saturday by the Tallahassee Democrat, a subscriber to the Intelligence Service. The story published by the Democrat also included comments Uhlfelder made on Friday during a brief interview with the Democrat-affiliated USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau.
“I find it interesting that this opinion, which attacks my criticism of Governor DeSantis, appeared only two days after the start of a (political) committee to remove Ron DeSantis,” Uhlfelder said during the interview, referring to what was considered political committee is called “Remove Ron”.
Uhlfelder’s statements aroused the anger of the court of appeal and spurred the additional decision on Monday.
“This declaration may violate professional rules 4-8.2 and 4-8.4. The statement can also violate the Florida Bar admission oath and also represent indirect criminal contempt, ”wrote Justices Brad Thomas, Susan Kelsey and Adam Tanenbaum in the ruling.
One of these rules – called “Impairment of the Qualifications and Integrity of Judges and Other Officials” – prohibits attorneys from making a statement “that the attorney knows he is wrong or his truth or falsehood about the qualifications or the.” Falsehood disregards the integrity of a judge ”and other judicial or judicial officials.
The other rule concerns a litany of misconduct, such as the prohibition of attorney conduct “that interferes with the administration of justice, including knowingly or through persistent indifference, degradation, humiliation, or discrimination against litigants, jurors, witnesses, and court staff or other attorneys on any basis.” . “
Greenberg, who was not involved in either last year’s lawsuit or appeal, claimed Uhlfelder did nothing wrong.
“We deny that he did something inappropriate or that violates any rule of professional conduct, and we will vigorously defend any charges in the appropriate form,” Greenberg said.
The rule that allows prosecutors to exercise discipline against attorneys requires Bowden Madden to file a petition in a county court. A judge will then essentially hold a trial and render a verdict of “dismissal, reprimand, parole, suspension or bailout, depending on the circumstances.”
If the case is not dismissed, the verdict will be referred to the Florida Supreme Court, which has the power to impose sanctions on attorneys and judges.
The process is “very, very unusual,” Greenberg said Thursday.
“I’ve been in the Florida legal discipline for 35 years and I can’t even remember when I used this rule,” he said.
The trial will be separate from the attorney probe, Greenberg said.
In the lawsuit filed last year, Uhlfelder wanted DeSantis to close the beaches nationwide and issue an order to prevent the virus from spreading. DeSantis issued a “Safer Home” order but refused to close beaches nationwide, despite some local governments temporarily imposing beach closures.
Carroll ruled against Uhlfelder in April, saying the state constitution gives the governor discretion in handling emergencies.
“I believe I am being asked to replace the governor’s judgment on how to respond to this COVID crisis that has been a moving target,” Carroll said during a phone hearing at the time. “There are 599 judges in Florida last, and I don’t think we need 599 governors waiting for us.”
The judge also encouraged Uhlfelder, who was admitted to the Florida bar in 1998, to appeal “because I think this is an important matter”.
“If the 1st District (Court of Appeal) tells me that I am wrong and that I have the authority, I am glad to respond to that and move on from there. But I don’t think I have the power to do what you ask me to do, and I’m sorry to tell you the answer is no, ”said the judge.
“We will not give up,” replied Uhlfelder.
Uhlfelder, represented by attorneys Marie Mattox and Gautier Kitchen, took the case to the Tallahassee-based Court of Appeals, relying in part on Carroll’s remarks, which she described as “clearly encouraging on appeal.”
The three-judge panel, however, expressed its displeasure with Uhlfelder in a November 13 ruling, denying the appeal and asking him to “show reason… why this court did not sanction him and the court, including attorney’s fees and costs An attorney for filing this motion should impose appeal, the first pleading, and hearing requests that appear frivolous and / or filed in bad faith. “