“Appellant and his counsel undoubtedly used this court merely as a stage from which to act out their version of political theater. This was unprofessional and an abuse of the judicial process,” the judges stated.
In April, Democrats and the mainstream media began using Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a whipping boy for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pandemic management failures in New York.
Florida lawyer Daniel Uhlfelder kicked it up a notch by donning a grim reaper costume and periodically hitting the state’s beaches to remind beachgoers about the COVID crisis and to try and shame DeSantis in the process.
What's the difference between a lawyer and the Grim Reaper? Nothing apparently… pic.twitter.com/xaTUmKCY1p
— Wzzp!! (@heyrico) May 2, 2020
A month before he started his Grim Reaper gig, Uhlfelder and another attorney filed a lawsuit against DeSantis to try and force him to close the state’s beaches.
Uhlfelder got a lot of state and national media attention at the time. CNN led the way by painting the Democrat attorney as a selfless hero committed to the health and well-being of his fellow Floridians in contrast to DeSantis, who they frequently called some variation of the term “grandma killer.”
Uhlfelder enjoyed the attention so much that crackpot antics became his thing. For instance, in September, he appeared in front of the governor’s mansion dressed as a shepherd. Alongside him were several goats and a team of “socially responsible doctors” who were there to squash any talk of trying the pandemic’s herd immunity approach.
We brought a herd of goats to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ doorsteps today to bring attention to, and oppose, his disgraceful support for herd immunity. pic.twitter.com/XiUNVzAz7Z
— Daniel Uhlfelder (@DWUhlfelderLaw) September 23, 2020
For the record, DeSantis is not on record as supporting the herd immunity approach.
But despite all the fawning media attention and the Twitter adoration, Uhlfelder has received, his lawsuit against DeSantis hasn’t gone so well. His appeal efforts have landed him in hot water with the First District Court of Appeals in Florida:
An appeals court wants The Florida Bar to consider disciplinary action against a Panhandle attorney who pursued a high-profile case seeking to force Gov. Ron DeSantis to close beaches because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal, in an order issued Friday, stopped short of imposing financial sanctions against Santa Rosa Beach attorney Daniel Uhlfelder and lawyers who represented him in an appeal of a circuit judge’s ruling in the case.
But the panel sharply criticized Uhlfelder and his lawyers, saying that “they knew or should have known that their ‘demands’ that the Governor ‘close the beaches’ were not validly asserted below (in the circuit court) or on appeal.”
“There was no good faith legal argument to support a claim for such relief in the trial court, and there was certainly no good faith basis to argue legal error on appeal,” said the order by Judges Brad Thomas and Adam Tanenbaum.
“Appellant (Uhlfelder) and his counsel undoubtedly used this court merely as a stage from which to act out their version of political theater. This was unprofessional and an abuse of the judicial process.”
In the February 5th order rebuking Uhlfelder, the judges noted they were referring the opinion stated in the order “to The Florida Bar for its consideration of whether Appellant and his counsel violated the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar.” They also encouraged the Florida Bar to “take appropriate action to ensure that Appellant and his counsel understand their ethical obligations and proper roles as officers of the court.” Also, if they deemed it necessary, “require Appellant and his counsel to undertake additional educational training the Bar may deem appropriate to ensure that Appellant and counsel comply with their ethical and professionalism obligations.”
Uhlfelder’s response, which the Tallahassee Democrat quoted, only made matters worse for him. He told the paper, “I do find it interesting that this opinion attacking my critiques of Gov. DeSantis appeared just two days after I launched a (political) committee to remove Ron DeSantis.”
The following Monday, the court issued another order that directed the State Attorney “to file a motion to discipline Daniel W. Uhlfelder” for the statement he made to the Tallahassee Democrat:
On February 6, 2021, following an order of this court issued February 5, 2021, referring the respondent attorney for possible misconduct to The Florida Bar in Case No. 1D20-1178, the respondent attorney was quoted by the Tallahassee Democrat as stating: “I do find it interesting that this opinion attacking my critiques of Gov. DeSantis appeared just two days after I launched a (political) committee to remove Ron DeSantis[.”]
This statement may violate Rules of Professional Conduct 4-8.2 and 4-8.4; the statement may also violate the Oath of Admission to The Florida Bar, and also may constitute indirect criminal contempt.
A copy of this order has been delivered to The Florida Bar, along with the February 5, 2021, order.
Update: Another order has been filed in this case, this time directing the State Attorney "to file a motion to discipline Daniel W. Uhlfelder" for a statement he made in response to Friday's order. https://t.co/MNtwLQuQNG https://t.co/bnwGCVbCZl pic.twitter.com/Hckhs7DneW
— Rob Romano (@2Aupdates) February 9, 2021
The moral of the story here appears to be that the judges have told Uhlfelder that while he has the right to protest DeSantis’ COVID policies all he wants, the courts aren’t the place for him to play politics. He should know this since he’s an officer of the court.
Whether the guy who alternatively goes between dressing as the Grim Reaper, a shepherd, and a lawyer will heed the warning remains to be seen. How will the Florida Bar respond to the court’s requests for disciplinary action?
But based on his track record from last year, the odds don’t appear to be in Uhlfelder’s favor. We’ll keep tabs on this case and keep you posted on the developments.
— Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym “Sister Toldjah” and can be reached via Twitter. —DONATE
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