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Justice Dept. wants Pulse 911 case kept in federal court

ORLANDO — The U.S. Department of Justice on Friday appealed a ruling involving whether hundreds of 911 calls recorded during a massacre at a gay nightclub in Florida can be released.

In its filing, the Justice Department said that it was appealing U.S. District Judge Paul Byron's ruling last week that the federal court lacks jurisdiction and the matter should be handled in state court. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Flynn said he will ask for an order halting any further proceedings until the federal appeals court in Atlanta has ruled.

During a hearing in state court on Friday, a Florida judge indicated that the recordings wouldn't be made public any time soon because of the need to hold hearings on various legal questions.

The Justice Department's appeal was the latest twist in the fight between news media groups, the city of Orlando and the department over the release of hundreds of 911 calls, as well as communications between gunman Omar Mateen and the Orlando Police Department on the night of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in June. Mateen died after being shot as SWAT team members breached a club wall and rescued patrons following a standoff that lasted more than three hours.

Mateen opened fire at the nightclub in a rampage that left 49 people dead and 53 hospitalized in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Earlier this week, the city released nine of the hundreds of 911 calls, but none came from patrons trapped inside the club.

On Friday, Circuit Judge Margaret Schreiber requested three hearings on the legal fight, all of them for later in the month. At the first hearing, the judge will consider whether to dismiss a complaint filed by the city of Orlando against the media groups.

The second hearing will look at whether the 911 calls, and the communications with Mateen, fall under any exemptions to Florida's public record laws because they are part of an active criminal investigation or contain criminal intelligence.

A third hearing, yet to be scheduled, will answer whether any of the calls would be exempted because they record the killing of a person.