Thursday, September 20, 2018
Politics

Florida taxpayers to shoulder $1.1 million in legal fees over 'docs vs. glocks' law

TALLAHASSEE — Florida will pay $1.1 million in legal fees to attorneys who challenged a controversial state law that sought to prevent doctors from asking patients about guns, a group representing opponents said Monday.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence announced the legal fee agreement more than five months after a federal appeals court sided with doctors and medical groups in striking down key parts of the 2011 law — which became known as the "docs vs. glocks" law. The state did not appeal the Feb. 16 decision by the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

A copy of the legal fee agreement had not been posted in an online court file Monday morning. But documents indicate the state and the law's opponents had been in mediation on the fees.

The law, which was backed by groups such as the National Rifle Association, included a series of restrictions on doctors and health providers. For example, it sought to prevent physicians from entering information about gun ownership into medical records if the physicians knew the information was not "relevant" to patients' medical care or safety or to the safety of other people.

Also, the law said doctors should refrain from asking about gun ownership by patients or family members unless the doctors believed in "good faith" that the information was relevant to medical care or safety. Also, the law sought to prevent doctors from discriminating against patients or "harassing" them because of owning firearms.

Opponents argued, in part, that the law violated free speech rights. The full appeals court found that the record keeping, inquiry and anti-harassment parts of the law were unconstitutional, but upheld the portion of the law that bars doctors from discriminating against patients who have guns.

"Legislators across the country should learn from Florida's example that if you side with the corporate gun lobby instead of your constituents, you endanger the safety of children and families, impinge upon First Amendment rights of doctors, and force taxpayers to pay millions to unsuccessfully defend unconstitutional laws," Jonathan Lowy, director of the Brady Center's Legal Action Project and an attorney in the case, said in a statement Monday.

"Thankfully, in this case justice prevailed and the court recognized that doctors have a First Amendment right to tell the truth about guns, and the risks they can pose to children and families."

When asked for comment Monday about the legal fees, John Tupps, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, said in an email that Scott signed the 2011 law after it "was approved by a large, bipartisan majority in the Florida Legislature."

"Gov. Scott is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment," Tupps said. "Much of this law was either never challenged or upheld in court. This (legal fees) settlement is in accordance with Florida law and a recommendation from the Department of Financial Services."

The challenge to the law was filed in June 2011 and played out over nearly six years. A U.S. District Court judge blocked the law from taking effect, but a three-judge panel of the appeals court upheld the law in three rulings before the full appeals court agreed to take up the case.

Supporters of the law said it was necessary to prevent doctors, such as pediatricians, from harassing and discriminating against patients and parents about gun ownership. They also described the law, formally known as the Firearm Owners' Privacy Act, as a Second Amendment issue.

But Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, an attorney with the firm Ropes & Gray, who argued the case for the plaintiffs, said in a statement Monday that the case allows doctors to "go back to giving their best advice to patients when it comes to gun safety."

"From day one in bringing this case, our commitment has been to protect doctors' First Amendment rights to ensure the safety of individuals, families and communities in Florida," Hallward-Driemeier said. "The successful resolution of the litigation and subsequent fees and costs award are both critical to furthering that goal."

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