A judge granted a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed against Florida and its unemployment benefit system operators Wednesday. The lawsuit was filed by attorneys representing Floridians who are waiting for unemployment payments due to the coronavirus fallout.
The hearing was held over a phone and by virutal meeting due to the ongoing pandemic.
Circuit Court Judge Angela Dempsey listened to attorneys for Florida defend the steps the state has taken to get the flawed CONNECT system working and processing payments and applications.
An attorney for Gov. Ron DeSantis said there is nothing in Florida law that requires residents to get a check the minute they apply and there are many state and federal requirements that must be met to avoid fraud.
“We are doing the best we can with the system and the resources we have,” she said. “It’s not as fast as we would like, it’s not as fast as you would like.”
Passionate arguments were made from all the attorneys representing Floridians who are still waiting on unemployment payments after filing claims more than a month ago.
Attorney Gautier Kitchen suggested the state pay everyone and confirm unemployment later, saying the DEO is “deterring, delaying and denying.”
“They can pay and chase just like they do with Medicare,” he said.
DeSantis has previously called the CONNECT system a “clunker” and said it wasn’t designed to withstand even a small surge.
Kitchen quoted the governor on those statements during his plea to the judge.
“They had their shot at this, too little, too late, something has to be done, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot fix the system,” he said, later adding, “Fifty years ago we put a man on the moon but we can’t enroll people in an unemployment system.”
In the end, the judge said after considering all presentations as well as the case law, she had no choice but to grant the state’s request.
Dempsey granted the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit against the Florida DEO saying she does not “have the authority to rewrite the statute or to create a whole new pay and chase system.”
Attorneys were heard talking about an appeal at the end of the virtual hearing.
As of Wednesday, according to the DEO dashboard, more than $1 billion has been paid to claimants, meaning at least one payment has been sent to 481,487 people. More than 1.1 million people have filled for unemployment benefits since mid-March.
The governor has asked the inspector general to investigate the $77.9 million contract the CONNECT site was built under in 2013.
Attorney John Morgan, who was not involved in the lawsuit against the DEO and DeSantis, volunteered Wednesday to sue Deloitte, the vendor paid to build the system, and recoup the money for Florida.
Morgan said he wouldn’t charge the state anything for his firm’s work, and any money from the lawsuit should go to the unemployed.
Check back for updates on this developing story.