‘Grim Reaper’ lawyer sends dark message as he battles Florida governor in court

A Florida lawyer shrouded as the Grim Reaper is delivering a grave message to masses of beachgoers in the Sunshine State about the dark consequences of congregating on the shoreline and avoiding social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The hooded attorney, who clutches a soul-snatching scythe in the scorching heat, is also suing Gov. Ron DeSantis for allowing beaches to reopen and is imploring him to implement a statewide mask mandate.

Santa Rosa Beach-based lawyer Daniel Uhlfelder is appealing a Circuit Court’s April 7 decision to grant DeSantis’ motion to dismiss his petition with prejudice. Uhlfelder had sought an order to issue a temporary statewide beach closure and a safer-at-home order. Leon County Circuit Judge Kevin J. Carroll ruled the court lacked authority to grant relief to Uhlfelder, now known for donning Grim Reaper garb, because of the separation of powers clause of the Florida Constitution. The lawyer, president of Daniel W. Uhlfelder Attorneys at Law, which specializes in family and real estate law, argues in an appeal filed July 13 that since his March 20 original complaint, Florida has become a hot spot for the deadly virus due to DeSantis’ failure to comply with his constitutional and statutory duties.

Daniel Uhlfelder

“The separation of powers mandates judicial intervention to protect the health and welfare of Florida’s citizens from DeSantis’ constitutional abdication of his sworn duties,” Uhlfelder argues in his appeal. “The preservation of Floridians’ lives is dependent on the judiciary protecting them, because it is clear DeSantis has no interest in protecting their lives during this deadly global pandemic where Florida has now quickly become the epicenter.”

The DeSantis administration did not respond to requests for comment.

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DeSantis on April 1 issued a 30-day statewide safer-at-home order and in mid-April allowed some beaches in northern Florida to reopen despite a continued increase in coronavirus cases. In a late June news conference, DeSantis declared he would leave mask mandates and public closures to local governments.

“We’re not going to do that statewide. We wanted to have a collaborating effort with the locals from the beginning,” DeSantis said. “Different areas have handled this differently based on their facts and circumstances, and even today you see obvious discrepancies throughout the state.”

Uhlfelder, 47, who has been practicing law for more than 20 years, first began to frequent beaches in March in a hazmat suit, but his safety warnings were largely ignored, he told The Legal Examiner. Uhlfelder decided to don the mythological Grim Reaper robe after a friend crafted him the hooded black cloak, he said. Uhlfelder silently roams beaches from Miami to Jacksonville. Some revelers want pictures with him or have launched verbal attacks, the married father of two said. 

“My message is really to our leadership — our governor here in Florida, the president and the public at large — is that they need to listen to the experts and socially distance and wear a mask,” Uhlfelder said. “You need to take this seriously, because this is a deadly virus and Florida now has become the epicenter.”

“It’s just really unfortunate that I have to do this,” Uhlfelder added. “I hope one day to not be doing this, but the warnings are not being heard. People are not taking this seriously.”

Since Uhlfelder filed his lawsuit in March, Florida has reported more than 400,000 cases  and 6,200 deaths. Hospitals across the state are reporting a rise in COVID-19 patients with some intensive care unit beds over capacity. The state on July 12 shattered a national record with 15,300 new confirmed cases in a single day. 

If the appeals court reverses the circuit court’s decision, Uhlfelder plans to amend his complaint demanding DeSantis enact a mask mandate, he said.

At least 28 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico have issued mask mandates. Cities and counties in Florida have squabbled with constituents in recent weeks about issuing such an order. At least a dozen counties have issued varying requirements to wear facial coverings. More than 60 municipalities have enacted similar orders and ordinances.