A Florida judge ordered the DeSantis administration to pay the legal fees of news outlets seeking public records about the death of an abused child.

Child welfare authorities’ refusal, for well over a year, to hand over documents detailing the state’s failed efforts to protect a Miami toddler will cost Florida taxpayers $376,665 — money that otherwise could have been spent on services for at-risk children.

It is one of several public records battles that have played out during the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Barbara Areces, who earlier this year censured the Department of Children & Families for defying the state’s open government laws, awarded attorneys for the Miami Herald and other news organizations the money in an order that closes out a nearly two-year litigation.

In her five-page order, Areces said the legal fees generated by the news outlets seeking to enforce the state’s public records law were “appropriate and reasonable.”

The dispute concerned Rashid Bryant, a 22-month-old boy who died on Nov. 6, 2020 from complications of acute and chronic blunt force injuries. Rashid’s death, the Medical Examiner’s Office wrote, was partly the result of “parental neglect.” Rashid and his nine siblings had been the subject of about 25 reports to Florida’s child abuse hotline, and the children had been in and out of foster care.

The boy’s family had been facing eviction at the time his mother called 911 to report he was in distress; in fact, Rashid had already perished.

Under Florida’s public records law — originally approved by voters in 1909, but later enshrined in the state Constitution following a voter referendum – all documents detailing Rashid’s involvement with the state’s child welfare system should have been open to public inspection upon a finding that his death resulted from abuse or neglect.

But DCF insisted for more than a year that the agency was still investigating the cause of his death, and, therefore, agency records were exempt from public disclosure.

Read more at: https://www.miamiherald.com/article269499212.html#storylink=cpy