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Ron DeSantis’ office paid D.C. law firm $250,000 to defend felon voting law

Attorney Charles Cooper represented the state before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit last week.

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office paid prominent Washington law firm Cooper & Kirk $250,000 to defend the state’s law banning people convicted of felonies from voting before they’ve paid off all court fees, fines and restitution to victims.

According to the contract released by the governor’s office Monday, DeSantis general counsel Joe Jacquot inked the deal with the firm in November. The $250,000 flat fee covers the firm’s work for a year.

Last week, the firm’s co-founder, Charles Cooper, represented Florida before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

Cooper, who represented former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the investigations into Russian election interference, was unusually candid about Florida’s shortcomings during the hearing, telling the judges that “Florida didn’t get its act together as quickly as one would hope” while processing registration forms from applicants with felony convictions.

The quarter-million is far from the total amount the state has spent defending Senate Bill 7066, which was passed by the Legislature at DeSantis’ urging last year. The bill severely undercut Amendment 4, a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2018 that overturned the state’s lifetime ban on voting for nearly all people convicted of felonies.

Senate Bill 7066 clarified that felons need to pay off all financial obligations, including court fees and fines, before being allowed to vote. That prevented an estimated 800,000 people from registering to vote and spurred a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups, arguing the state instituted an unconstitutional “poll tax” on voters.

Since the lawsuit, DeSantis’ administration has used other outside law firms to defend the law, but the state has not released those contracts in response to records requests by the Times/Herald.

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