Since Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took office in 2019 and embarked on his culture wars, lawsuits from various communities whose rights have been violated have piled up against the far-right Republican.
As DeSantis fights the lawsuits with what critics have described as a blank check from the state’s supermajority Republican legislature, the mounting legal costs have been borne heavily by Florida taxpayers.
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In recent years, DeSantis’ ultra-conservative legislative agenda has drawn the ire of many in marginalized communities as well as major corporations, including Disney. The so-called “don’t say gay” bill, abortion bans, and the banning of African-American studies are just a few of DeSantis’ many extremist policies that have been the subject of costly lawsuits in a state where residents are already struggling with the cost of living.
“The list of legal challenges resulting from DeSantis’ unconstitutional laws is endless,” said Democratic Senator Lori Berman.
“We’ve seen Floridians rightly pursue many if not all of the governor’s legislative priorities, including laws that restrict drag shows for children, ban Chinese citizens from owning homes and land in Florida, remove young and black and brown voters, ban affirmation of gender care and threatening parents who support them with state custody of their children, and of course all retaliatory legislation against Disney for showing support for the LGBTQ+ community,” she said.
In the wake of mounting lawsuits against DeSantis, the governor’s legal costs, which the Miami Herald last December reported cost at least $16.7 million, have skyrocketed.
In DeSantis’ legal fight against Disney over the company’s condemnation of its anti-LGBTQ+ laws, it’s going to cost the governor and his hand-picked council nearly $1,300 an hour in legal fees as ‘they’re investigating how the company uncovered a loophole in the DeSantis acquisition plan governing the rights to Disney World, Insider reports.
“Disney is a perfect example of that. It’s not hurting any Floridians. There’s nothing. It’s creating a legal problem out of nowhere and now Disney has taken legal action so they need to respond and it will cost money to the taxpayers. The whole Disney thing is just because of DeSantis’ ego and his hurt feelings,” said Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky.
“Taxpayers are paying to pay the bills to pass unconstitutional bills and to follow his petty revenge,” she said, adding, “I don’t think they know about it at all… They’re too indoctrinated at this point that they wouldn’t even care.
Meanwhile, in another case covered by the Orlando Sentinel, the DeSantis administration has turned to elite Washington DC-based conservative law firm Cooper & Kirk to defend the governor against his bevy of laws. anti-awakening. Lawyers at the firm charge $725 per hour, according to contracts reviewed by Orlando Sentinel. In June 2022, the state authorized nearly $2.8 million for Cooper & Kirk’s legal services alone, the outlet reports.
With taxpayer-funded legal costs against DeSantis’ legislative agenda mounting, critics ranging from civil rights organizations to Democratic state lawmakers have blasted DeSantis’ policies as unconstitutional and mere political stunts designed to propel him to the front lines of the GOP primary.
“DeSantis went to Harvard for his [law degree]. He is someone who should understand the constraints imposed on him and the state by the constitution of the United States and the constitution of Florida. He knows these constraints, but he doesn’t care. Its goal is to intentionally pass unconstitutional laws and launch legal challenges for the conservative Supreme Court to strike down longstanding protections,” Berman said.
Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University, echoed similar sentiments, comparing DeSantis to his main competitor and current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, who he says are cut “from the same cloth.” .
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“Ron DeSantis graduated from Harvard Law School. He is a lawyer. While Donald Trump could at least make the argument, ‘I’m just a layman, I don’t know’ if…something is ruled illegal or unconstitutional…DeSantis doesn’t have that defense,” Jarvis said.
Nonetheless, DeSantis seems unfazed.
“DeSantis knows very well that… what he is doing is unconstitutional and illegal… Lawyers by training are very careful, so it is quite remarkable to have a lawyer-politician who not only knows better, but does not care said Jarvis.
For DeSantis, it doesn’t matter whether he wins or loses the legal battles because he knows he “ultimately controls the Florida Supreme Court,” according to Jarvis.
“He’s playing a game of ‘heads, I win, tails, you lose.’ to the audience: “I was right and the proof is in the pudding because the courts agreed with me,” he explained.
“But even better for DeSantis when they come out against him… DeSantis is able to stand up and say, ‘These crazy judges want our kids to watch drag shows, they want our kids to learn to be gay, they want Disney be this terrible company. This is why you need a strong governor and why you will benefit from my presence as president, because I will ensure that I get rid of these judges and replace them with judges who have traditional American morals, “added Jarvis.
As DeSantis continues to fight his costly legal battles, the state’s supermajority Republican Legislature appears to be fully cheering him on.
“We’re in a litigious society,” State Senate Speaker Kathleen Passidomo told the Tallahassee Democrat, while Senate Budget Chairman Doug Broxson told the newspaper, “We want the governor is in a comfortable position to speak his mind.”
As Republicans rush to DeSantis’ defense, perhaps the most egregious example of lawmakers’ endorsement of his legal wars is the $16 million incorporated into the state’s $117 billion budget. to be used exclusively for his legal costs.
Speaking to the Guardian, state Democratic leader Fentrice Driskell called the budget a Republican “carte blanche” and a result of zero accountability.
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“The legislature is supposed to be a check on executive power. Giving him carte blanche to go and fight these wars in court is essentially saying there are no checks and balances when it comes to the Florida state government,” Driskell said.
“It’s a waste…They’re just allowing this one person to impose their will on the state of Florida and they’re willing to waste taxpayers’ money to do that,” she said, adding, “Most Floridians can’t afford their rent and property insurance rates are through the roof. We could have redirected that money to affordable housing.
Driskell went on to describe Medicaid iBudget Florida, a waiver that allows Floridians with disabilities to access certain services and currently has a waiting list of more than 22,000 residents.
“It’s very hard for them to get off that waiting list because Republicans are underfunding Medicaid. We could use that money to fund the waiting list and get people out of it. I think only $2 million was budgeted for this year. If we add the $16 million that was added for these culture wars, my God, that’s $18 million. Presumably, we could help get nine times as many people off the waiting list,” Driskell said.
While DeSantis remains embroiled in his legal woes at the expense of Florida taxpayers, there is perhaps one group of people who have profited the most from all of the legal drama, Jarvis told the Guardian.
“The lawyers who got this $16.7 million is money from heaven. It’s money that fell on them… Every time there’s a loser, and the loser here is the Florida taxpayer, there’s a winner. The winners here are the lawyers who collect these huge fees. The more plaintiffs sue and the more they fight these crazy policies, you know it’s just money in the bank for these lawyers,” he said.
“DeSantis has been God’s gift to lawyers,” he added.