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Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Gainesville adds additional legal counsel, other cities to potential lawsuit against DeSantis’ anti-protest law

City Commission continues to express disapproval over law

city commission new graphic
city commission new graphic

Gainesville has taken another step in their litigation against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Combating Public Disorder law, an anti-protest law.

After passing a unanimous vote at a meeting Thursday, city commissioners voted in favor of adding Southern Poverty Law Center and Jenner & Block firm as outside counsel. The commission also voted to add other cities as plaintiffs.

The law, known as House Bill 1, was approved by DeSantis in April to combat public disorder during “aggravated” or “violent” riots. After weathering widespread controversy, the bill’s final form allows law enforcement to imprison those involved for up to 15 years if a gathering has been deemed a riot — defined as a violent gathering of at least 26 people. The bill also includes other changes like penalties for doxing and damaging a monument.

In May, Gainesvile allowed the Public Rights Project and Community Justice Project to represent the city in the lawsuit against the state’s “anti-riot bill.”

Former City Commissioner Gail Johnson was the first to suggest Gainesville should join the lawsuit against the state.

Eight other Florida cities and 30 organizations have joined the lawsuit since May, including local organizations such as Florida Moms Demand Action, the Alachua NAACP, Community Spring, North Central Florida Indivisible and United Faculty of Florida. Before the vote on Thursday, Johnson urged the commissioners to “stay the course.”

“I’m also asking you to stand with me, as I was the commissioner that brought this forward,” she said during the meeting. “All eyes are on Gainesville.”

The City Attorney’s Office, which commissioners said have disapproved of the lawsuit since its inception, is unsupportive of adding new counsel. 

Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe said it can only benefit the city to have two more legal groups added to the lawsuit.

Commissioner David Arreola said he’s proud Gainesville was a trailblazer when it came to expressing disapproval of the law.

“I am really glad to see that a lot of other cities have seen the value in Gainesville’s leadership,“ Arreola said during the meeting. “I think that this is indeed a time for us to continue taking that mantle of leadership for this litigation.”

Other commissioners were still hesitant to sign a blank check.

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Commissioner Reina Saco said she wants more transparency about the complaints listed in the lawsuit and the attorneys to increase communication with the city attorney.

“When I asked [to see it] to make myself more comfortable with this way forward, I was told that’s just not available for us,” Saco said during the meeting. 

Commissioner Harvey Ward said he asked for two things when the city signed on to be a part of the lawsuit: for other cities to join Gainesville as plaintiffs and for the City Attorney’s Office to be kept up to date.

“I’m going to support the motion, but I really would like more communication from our external counsel to our City Attorney’s Office,” Ward said. “It’s very important to me that we have a good flow of information there. We should be talking to our lawyer, not having to reach out beyond the Attorney’s staff.”

Contact Jiselle at Follow her on Twitter @jiselle_lee.

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Jiselle Lee

Jiselle Lee was The Alligator’s Summer 2023 Editor-In-Chief. She was previously a reporter with NextShark News and a reporting intern at The Bradenton Herald.

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