Daniel Uhlfelder

UPDATED: Uhlfelder: DeSantis’ lawyer tried to ‘bully me’ into dropping appeal in lawsuit seeking statewide beach closures


In a lengthy email sent late Thursday night, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ comms director, Helen Ferré, provided a detailed description of the actions the governor has taken since March 1 to address the pandemic.

DeSantis “has been in continuous communications with mayors” throughout the state, had meetings throughout the state with county health officials. His administration “has been working around the clock to ensure supplies are available.” State health officials have visited more than 1,000 nursing homes and had daily calls with health care providers such as hospitals. 

The list went on to include numerous other efforts.

“Those critical of Florida’s data-driven approach to mitigate and repel COVID-19 perhaps do not understand the science, respect local leaders’ ability to make appropriate decisions for their communities or are using this crisis for political purposes. Regardless, Florida is prepared for the challenges that may await,” Ferré said in the email.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ legal team is working around-the-clock as the state struggles to contain the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

They’re so harried that they don’t want to be bothered by a pesky lawsuit over whether the governor should shut down Florida shoreline.

Walton County resident Daniel Uhlfelder, a lawyer who lives in Santa Rosa Beach, filed the lawsuit last month, asking DeSantis to close the state’s beaches and issue an executive order restricting Floridians’ movements.

The Republican governor eventually issued a “safer-at-home” order, but has refused to shut down beaches statewide, for the most part leaving that decision in the hands of local officials.

Leon County Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll dismissed Uhlfelder’s complaint on Tuesday, but encouraged the lawyer to file an appeal, “because I do think this is a matter of importance.”

Nicholas Primrose, DeSantis’ deputy general counsel, apparently disagrees.

Primrose e-mailed Uhlfelder Wednesday afternoon, asking if he had time “to speak about your indication that you will appeal.”

Uhlfelder told The News Service of Florida he expected the governor’s attorney to discuss a settlement about the beach closures.

Instead, Uhlfelder said Primrose tried to convince him to drop his appeal, which he had not yet filed.

Uhlfelder told Primrose that he was moving forward with the appeal.

“He said he wanted me to not appeal, that they would be seeking sanctions,” such as attorney’s fees, Uhlfelder said in telephone interview.

“He said people have told him to file a (Florida) Bar complaint, but he’s not going to do it,” he added.

“The point of the call, it was a threat. It was a threat,” Uhlfelder said. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years. I know when somebody’s threatening me. He was trying to bully.”

But Daniel Nordby, who served as general counsel for former Gov. Rick Scott, told Truth or Dara that he didn’t think Primrose’s comments could be considered threats.

“I think it would be difficult to characterize anything like that as bullying,” Nordby said.

Nordby, who served as chairman of the panel tasked with giving DeSantis a list of candidates to replace two former Florida Supreme Court justices, blasted Uhlfelder’s lawsuit.

“This is a publicity stunt masquerading as a lawsuit. I’m not surprised that the trial court threw out the case, and left these decisions to the executive branch,” Nordby said.

Uhlfelder said Primrose told him “the governor’s not going to close the beaches because he wants people to be able to walk on the beach.”

The Walton County lawyer said allies of the governor “have bullied me and threatened me and called me names” in text messages, emails and phone calls since he filed the lawsuit late last month.

But Primrose’s call was the first time anyone directly working for the governor tried to intimidate him, according to Uhlfelder.

Uhlfelder said Primrose told him that his lawsuit was taking “a lot of time and resources” away from the governor’s legal team’s handling of the COVID-19 situation.

“I said, ‘If you want to take care of the COVID situation, why don’t you close the beaches and get this under control?’ ” Uhlfelder said.

DeSantis’ office did not provide a response, when asked whether Primrose tried to intimidate Uhlfelder into dropping the appeal.

But Uhlfelder, who called the statewide shut-down of beaches “a matter of life and death,” said he isn’t backing down.

“They picked the wrong person to bully,” he said.

“They picked the wrong person to bully,” he said.