by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida
Lawyers representing Arizona Death Row inmates aren’t backing down from a battle with Florida corrections officials over the release of documents related to execution drugs, part of a drawn-out challenge to Arizona’s lethal-injection process.
The Florida Department of Corrections is refusing to release the documents, arguing that the information is exempt under the Sunshine State’s broad open-records law.
Corrections officials released some of the records to the media, but have refused to provide any of the information to the plaintiffs in the Arizona case, according to documents filed by the Arizona plaintiffs Monday in federal court.
Lawyers for seven Death Row inmates and the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona in June filed a subpoena seeking years of records related to Florida’s triple-drug lethal injection protocol, including the types of drugs purchased, the strengths and amounts of the drugs, the expiration dates of the drugs and the names of suppliers.
Arizona’s death penalty has been on hold for two years following the botched 2014 execution of inmate Joseph Wood, who died nearly two hours after the lethal-injection procedure was started.
Before the Florida Department of Corrections filed a motion to quash the subpoena in July, the Arizona lawyers offered to limit the scope of their records request and to keep the documents off-limits to the public.
“If the judicial system were to, on the one hand, require plaintiffs bringing a method of execution claim to prove that a known alternative exists and is available while, on the other hand, blocking discovery necessary to prove that fact, it would create a burden that is effectively impossible to satisfy,” Anderson wrote.
In the Arizona case, Florida officials argued that the requested documents are privileged and protected from disclosure under Florida law.
But the state law “protects only the identity of FDC’s (Florida Department of Corrections’) supplier of execution drugs,” Anderson wrote. “It does not shield all information related to FDC’s lethal injection supplies, nor does it protect the identity of any entity who has declined to work with FDC or has refused to provide it with execution drugs.”
The battle over the records comes as Florida’s death penalty is under intense scrutiny following a U.S. Supreme Court decision in January that found the state’s death penalty sentencing system gave too much power to judges, and not juries.
The Florida Supreme Court is poised to deal with the aftermath of that decision, which came in a case known as Hurst v. Florida, as well as a law hurriedly passed this spring to deal with the Hurst ruling. The Florida court indefinitely postponed two executions following the Hurst ruling.
State corrections officials for years have kept shrouded in secrecy information about the lethal-injection drugs, the subject of a separate federal lawsuit in Florida.
But, in late June, the agency released logs to media outlets, including The News Service of Florida, which had requested information about the drugs. The handwritten logs provide limited data about the three drugs, such as the amounts and dates on which the state received the drugs. Information about the expiration of the drugs was incomplete, and agency officials refused to answer questions about the logs. [READ MORE]