Florida court rejects attempt to suppress grand jury report on school safety

An appeals court on Wednesday rejected attempts to block disclosure of information in a final report by a statewide grand jury formed to investigate school safety and other issues after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

A three-judge panel in the 4th District Court of Appeals denied a series of motions to “suppress or strike out” at least parts of the grand jury report. The decision did not name the people who filed the petitions, which were consolidated into one case.

“Some of the petitioners argue that the report should be suppressed or deleted because they claim it deals with matters not directly related to a specific offense within the subject matter jurisdiction of the grand jury,” the court said. decision, written by Judge Edward Artau and attached. entirely by Judge Dorian Damoorgian and partially by Judge Martha Warner “Other petitioners argue that the report should be suppressed or suppressed because they claim it deals with matters beyond the purpose for which the grand jury of the State was called in. We do not agree with these arguments.

The Florida Supreme Court created the grand jury in 2019 at the request of Governor Ron DeSantis, about a year after former Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Nikolas Cruz killed 17 students and faculty at the school. .

The grand jury released three interim reports, calling for action on issues including school safety and mental health, according to information and reports posted on the Supreme Court’s website.

By impaning the grand jury, the Supreme Court granted DeSantis’ request for a potentially broad investigation. For example, DeSantis requested that the grand jury be allowed to investigate whether “school officials committed – and continue to commit – fraud and deceit by mismanaging, failing to use, and misappropriating multi-million dollar bond fund specifically solicited for school safety initiatives”.

As another example, he asked that the grand jury be allowed to investigate whether “school officials violated — and continue to violate — state law by consistently underreporting incidents of criminal activity.” to the Ministry of Education.

In its ruling on Wednesday, the South Florida Court of Appeals found that the grand jury did not exceed its jurisdiction in the investigation and in findings such as a recommendation that DeSantis “should ‘remove'” or suspend certain members of the school board”.

“The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has deeply shaken our state,” Artau wrote. “As our Governor recognized in his Supreme Court petition, investigating the systematic misconduct, mismanagement and misuse of public funds intended for school safety initiatives is of paramount importance nationwide. of the state to prevent another similar tragedy and keep schoolchildren safe.”

The ruling, however, said two paragraphs of the report should be “suppressed” because they included allegations of criminal conduct that were beyond the scope of the grand jury. He did not specify the nature of these allegations.

Warner disagreed with part of the ruling, as she argued it would improperly allow references in the grand jury report to the testimony of specific witnesses. Warner emphasized the importance of secrecy in grand jury proceedings.

“The Legislature has unambiguously ordered in (a section of state law) that no one may reveal what happens in statewide grand jury proceedings,” Warner wrote. “The law makes no exception allowing a statewide grand jury to reveal testimony presented to them in a public report. The statewide grand jury report must be drafted in a manner that avoids disclosure of specific witnesses and the substance of their testimony. To say otherwise is to ignore the plain meaning of the law and jeopardize the secrecy of statewide grand jury proceedings, a vital measure to ensure complete freedom of disclosure.

–Jim Saunders, Florida Press Service

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