TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A judge said Friday that a lawsuit against the governor’s migrant deportation program could move forward.
The ruling is a victory for state Sen. Jason Pizzo of North Miami, whose initial court appeal was dismissed last year with an opportunity to make more “definite” arguments. Pizza did so in December, prompting a more than two-hour hearing this week.
After it ended, Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper said the lawmaker not only had standing as a taxpayer, but that Pizzo’s arguments were valid.
“I deny the defendants’ motion to dismiss on the basis that I think we just need to hear those issues,” Cooper said.
The challenge focuses on the controversial September of last year migrant flights financed by taxes in the current state budget. Florida authorities used part of a $12 million pot to transport about 50 Venezuelan migrants, many of them asylum seekers, from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard.
In his amended complaint, Pizzo alleges the program violated the state constitution by using the language of the budget, rather than lawmakers, to create a substantial new program. In addition, the suit alleges that he failed to collect enough bids for his supplier and the operation violated federal immigration authorities.
“The judge ruled correctly on the motions to dismiss,” said Mark Herron, the plaintiff’s attorney.
Herron was mostly pleased with the outcome and said that with immigration issues back in the headlines, a favorable future ruling could bar the governor from taking similar measures.
“The governor has said he intends to spend the full $12 million,” Herron said. “The CFO recently said I’m going to sign these checks because we’re going to attach them to the federal government.”
If we talk about the financial director, he was dismissed from the lawsuit.
Cooper said Jimmy Patronis’ role in the program wasn’t significant enough to stick around. Cooper left the other defendants, the Florida Department and the governor.
Their attorneys declined to comment after the hearing. As of Friday afternoon, the governor’s press team had not yet responded to inquiries. Despite this, the Republican regularly defended the flights at press conferences.
“What we do is not the final decision,” Desantis said in September. “I think it opens people’s eyes to the solution, which is to have a secure border…”
A hearing is set for Jan. 30 to discuss the next steps that could lead to a full court hearing on the legality of the migrant program. Attorneys for the governor said they would seek a summary judgment to avoid that.
One thing that could drag out this legal battle is disagreement over whether the governor has executive powers in the matter. His attorneys suggested that DeSantis was doing this, but Cooper said he disagreed, given that Florida has extensive transparency rules under its sunshine laws.