A Florida lawyer known for dressing as the Grim Reaper to warn local beachgoers about rising COVID-19 deaths could be facing court sanctions after he tried to sue the state’s governor for refusing to shut down beaches during the coronavirus pandemic.
Lawyers for Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) urged a state appellate court on Friday to sanction Santa Rosa Beach attorney Daniel Uhlfelder for filing what they called a “frivolous” appeal in a lawsuit first brought in March ― an appeal that DeSantis’ office claimed wasted “many hours” of its time.
The lower court had already dismissed the case. “Appellant knew or should have known that filing this appeal was frivolous. Appellant and his counsel should be sanctioned accordingly,” DeSantis’ filing argues.
It also notes that “Florida law authorizes appellate courts to sanction attorneys and litigants for frivolous filings.”
The brief comes one month after an appeals court affirmed the dismissal of Uhlfelder’s case and raised the possibility of sanctions being imposed against him and his lawyers for failing “to demonstrate even an arguable legal basis” for reversing the lower court.
But Uhlfelder contends that the courts and DeSantis have the whole thing backward.
“There’s nothing frivolous about anything that I’m doing. It’s done to help people, to raise awareness,” Uhlfelder told HuffPost on Tuesday of his ongoing efforts, which lately have not included walks in the Grim Reaper outfit. “We have over 300,000 deaths in this country. That’s not frivolous.”
Uhlfelder turned to legal action against the governor in late March, roughly two weeks after the coronavirus was declared a pandemic. Florida was one of the last states to institute any restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19. Uhlfelder argued that DeSantis was failing to protect Florida residents by refusing to close beaches statewide and issue a safer-at-home order.
“He’s handled this horribly,” Uhlfelder told HuffPost. “I’ve been working on this effort since March to get him and other leaders to take this seriously, be truthful, be transparent, listen to the experts. So this is why I did this Grim Reaper tour. This is why I filed suit.”
The governor did impose a 30-day safer-at-home order in early April, although beaches statewide were never ordered to be closed.
DeSantis has gone in the opposite direction when it comes to mask-wearing, last month barring towns, cities and counties from enforcing local mask mandates even as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the state.
Uhlfelder said the initial judge back in April effectively invited him to appeal the case, and so he did.
“The trial judge encouraged me to pursue this appeal. He said I was operating in good faith. The governor acknowledged that he thought I was operating in good faith, but he still wanted to sanction me,” Uhlfelder said of the latest turn of events.
The lawyer said he believes DeSantis’ sole goal now is to wear him out, and anyone else who opposes him.
“That’s how they get away with these kinds of things. They wear them down. They raid their houses,” Uhlfelder said, referencing the recent raid at the Florida home of ousted data scientist Rebekah Jones. Jones has accused the state of asking her to censor and alter public-facing coronavirus data.
In his case, Uhlfelder suggested DeSantis’ office is going after his dignity as an attorney. “He wants to punish me for criticizing him. I’m not going to take this lying down,” the lawyer said.
A representative with DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
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