Florida doesn’t want its own Surgeon General to testify in mask lawsuit

The state's top health official has been noticeably mum on the issue of masks as COVID-19 ravages the state

Published September 17, 2021 4:30AM (EDT)

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

This article originally appeared on Raw Story


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is fighting subpoenas for depositions from Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees in the lawsuit with school boards over mask mandates. The challenge, in this case, is that the Health Department overstepped its authority when it issued an emergency rule banning masks in schools.

According to the Miami Herald, Florida Department of Health lawyers are trying to block the deposition from the doctor, who has been mum on the mask issue as COVID-19 ravages the state.

"It matters what the surgeon general was thinking in this case," said David Ashburn, the attorney for the school boards in Broward, Alachua and Orange counties.

The school boards think that the effort to prevent the mask requirements clashes with Dr. Rivkees' past comments about masks being useful in stopping the spread of the coronavirus. But the Florida lawyers are blocking the effort saying it's pointless.

"They (attorneys for the challengers) have means to ascertain the information they want," the state lawyers said. "It's not the surgeon general they need to start with."

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The hearing lasted an hour as Administrative Law Judge Brian Newman discussed the protective order to block the surgeon general. He didn't rule on the deposition issue but noted he wants to move quickly on the case. The next hearing is scheduled for Monday to hear motions from the Florida Health Department on why the suit should be dismissed.

"Rather, the emergency rule is facilitating the spread of COVID-19 by banning masks in public schools," the Herald cited one of the challenges by the NAACP, Florida Student Power Network and families.

"At bottom, the school boards disagree with the substance of the department's emergency rule," the motion said. "However, as the public officials charged with operating in accordance with state law, the school boards must presume that state laws applicable to their duties are valid. As such, the school boards lack standing to initiate litigation for the purpose of invalidating the very laws they are duty bound to follow. Put simply, the school boards do not get to pick and choose which state laws they want to follow."

As a top official in the Florida Health Department Rivkees should have information if not advice on the topic.

"Dr. Rivkees' personal knowledge and unique professional experience, including being a renowned pediatrician, make him singly able to answer the questions related to his statements on masks and the efficacy for, and effects on, children," attorneys for the challengers wrote in the documents.

"Given his role, and his history of public health advisories admonishing the public to wear masks, only to reverse them following the direction in Executive Order 21-175 from the governor (at whose pleasure he serves), Dr. Rivkees is in a unique position to explain the actions of the DOH and whether, in fact, the DOH rule's parental opt-out provisions control (as opposed to increase) the spread of communicable disease," the court documents say.

The excuse from their opposition made it sounds as if Dr. Rivkees was more of a ceremonial position and that he doesn't actually have any information.

They alleged that Rivkees doesn't "possess...unique, personal knowledge about the disputed issues in this proceeding that his staff does not otherwise possess. In his position as Florida's surgeon general, Dr. Rivkees is responsible for overseeing the operations of the state health office, county health departments, and certain area and regional offices throughout the state. He is not, however, involved on a granular level with the enactment of every department rule."

Read the full report.

By Sarah Burris

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Covid Vaccines Covid-19 Education Florida Health Mask Mandates Masks Politics Ron Desantis Schools Surgeon General