Several individuals who are currently or formerly associated with Governor Ron DeSantis’ administration and the state’s law enforcement agency may face questioning regarding their involvement in a clandestine effort to prevent The Washington Post from obtaining the governor’s travel records.
According to court records in a lawsuit brought by the Post against the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, attorneys representing the publication are seeking to depose a total of 10 individuals. This includes two former high-ranking employees who were forced to leave the agency.
The decision by The Post to question the aides has sparked strong criticism from the outside lawyers hired to represent the agency. They argue that the news organization is seeking to create sensational headlines and tarnish the reputation of DeSantis and his administration.
State Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey, who had previously rescheduled a hearing on the original lawsuit to April, will now be settling the bitter dispute. Rather than waiting until April, Judge Dempsey has decided to hold a hearing in late February to determine whether the Washington Post will have the opportunity to depose the current and former officials involved.
If the judge permits the depositions, it could reveal the extent to which the DeSantis administration went in order to protect records from public scrutiny during the Republican governor’s presidential campaign.
The Post aims to interview several individuals in relation to the case, including the former chief of staff at FDLE and a former deputy chief of staff who claims she was terminated after seeking whistleblower protection. Additionally, the lawyers seek to question Alex Kelly, who served as the governor’s interim chief of staff during DeSantis’ unsuccessful presidential campaign.
The Post and the DeSantis administration have been engaged in a legal battle since last summer. The news organization filed a lawsuit against the administration, citing four public record requests, one of which sought records related to DeSantis’ publicly-funded travel. Just before DeSantis announced his presidential candidacy, the Florida Legislature, controlled by the GOP, passed a law that protected the governor’s travel records from public access, even those pertaining to his previous trips.
The state used the new law as a justification for denying certain record requests from the Post. This action led the news organization to argue that the exemption for travel records was too broad and violated Florida’s constitution. In 1992, Florida voters passed a “Sunshine amendment” which ensures the public’s right to access government records and attend open meetings.
In early December, the News Service of Florida reported on the turmoil that had taken place in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement regarding the records.
In an email sent on November 28, Patricia Carpenter, former deputy chief of staff at the agency, informed FDLE Commissioner Mark Glass about a contentious discussion between agency employees and the governor’s office regarding the new law. Although Carpenter did not attend the meeting in person, she learned about it from FDLE’s then chief of staff. The email stated that the governor’s office staff instructed the agency not to release any records and instead suggested that news outlets should take legal action against the administration, as revealed in documents filed in the lawsuit.
According to Carpenter’s email, Janine Robinson, the agency’s general counsel, was denied a promotion and raise because she disagreed with the governor’s office regarding the public release of certain records.
An updated version of the Post’s lawsuit filed last month included an email revealing that Anastasios Kamoutsas, a deputy chief of staff for DeSantis, personally called Shane Desguin, chief of staff for FDLE. In this communication, Kamoutsas instructed Desguin not to promote Robinson.
According to an email from Carpenter, Desguin, the COS, inquired about the reason for Janine not being on their team during a phone call with Kamoutsas. To this, Desguin was informed that she “is not on our team.” Desguin then expressed his willingness to offer her another position with an increase, only to be told that she is fortunate to even have a job.
Carpenter was terminated from his position, and the News Service revealed that Desguin was compelled to retire as a consequence. According to both FDLE and a spokesperson for DeSantis, Carpenter’s dismissal was a result of various factors, including the creation of a “hostile work environment.”
The lawyers representing the Post have requested to interview Robinson, Carpenter, and Desguin, along with aides from the governor’s office who were present during the intense discussion regarding the records.
The Post declined to comment on the ongoing litigation, as did the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Unfortunately, the lawyer representing both Carpenter and Desguin did not respond to a request for comment.
The Gunster law firm, now representing FDLE in the litigation, strongly criticized the deposition requests in a recent filing. According to the lawyers, these requests have no real relevance to the legal issues at hand in the case.
According to their argument, the deposition requests were seen as a form of “harassment,” and certain high-ranking officials were legally protected from being required to participate in a deposition. The motion further characterized the Post as being “antagonistic” towards both the FDLE and the governor’s office.
According to the request to quash the subpoenas, it is evident that the Post intends to utilize this lawsuit as a means to create sensational headlines and stories that will tarnish the reputation of FDLE and other individuals in the current administration.