The First Amendment Foundation, The Palm Beach Post and 10 other state papers, ask a judge to bar the governor from holding the cabinet meeting, scheduled for Wednesday.
The First Amendment Foundation, joined by some of Florida’s largest news organizations, including The Palm Beach Post, have filed an emergency lawsuit seeking to block Gov. Ron DeSantis from holding a cabinet meeting in Israel on Wednesday.
The 50-page lawsuit, filed at 1:16 p.m. in Tallahassee on Tuesday, accuses DeSantis and his cabinet of “willfully” violating Florida’s Sunshine Law by holding a meeting of the state’s highest officials in Israel during a trade mission.
News organizations that have joined the lawsuit include GateHouse Media, owner of The Palm Beach Post and 10 other daily newspapers in Florida, including the Miami Herald, Naples Daily News, Orlando Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel and Tampa Bay Times.
No time has been set for a hearing.
According to the lawsuit, holding a meeting 6,500 miles away “absolutely frustrates the public’s ability to attend.”
“Florida citizens (and only those with valid passports) would need to arrange last-minute, costly travel to a foreign nation to attend the meeting. Even assuming that travel could be accomplished, the meeting is being held in the U.S. Embassy, a facility that the public does not have general access to.”
The lawsuit also claims that “Florida citizens of Palestinian, Arab and/or Muslim descent would confront travel/access issues that significantly frustrate access to the meeting.”
DeSantis announced April 9 that he would travel to Israel, fulfilling his campaign promise to make Israel his first overseas trip. Several weeks later, DeSantis’ office announced that the governor would also hold a cabinet meeting in the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem during the trade mission.
That announcement brought criticism from Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, who claimed the meeting violated the spirit of the state’s Sunshine law. The law opens all public meetings to the public and media. It also requires that the public be given reasonable notice of the date, time, location and topics to be addressed at public meetings.
Because a cabinet meeting has never been held out of the country — much less 6,500 miles from the state capital in Tallahassee — how much advance notice is reasonable is not known, Petersen said.
The Governor’s office remained mum, despite numerous requests by multiple news outlets for an agenda, itinerary and security requirements for the meeting in the weeks before the May 29 meeting at the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.
As the departure date neared, details began trickling out of DeSantis’ office last week. To date, DeSantis has not said why it is necessary to hold the meeting in Israel when the cabinet plans to meet six days later in Tallahassee.
Concerns were also raised on May 23, when a coalition of 10 state and national Arab-American and civil rights groups wrote a letter to DeSantis, claiming he violated the Sunshine Law by holding a meeting in a building that restricts public access.
According to the letter, Palestinians and other Arab and Muslim Americans seeking to attend the meeting could face travel and visa discrimination in attempting to enter Israel and the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy.
On Saturday, just hours before taking off, DeSantis’ communications director told the media they would not be allowed to use cell phones, computers or other electronic devices to cover the meeting live.