Florida Bar conjures up dubious ethics complaint against DeSantis critic Daniel Uhlfelder

Daniel Uhlfelder, as the Grim Reaper, being interviewed in Miramar Beach in May 2020.

By Noreen Marcus,

The Florida Bar is scrapping standard operating procedure in its long-running ethics case against a lawyer who defied and embarrassed Gov. Ron DeSantis with a national audience during the run-up to his presidential bid.

On orders from the Florida Supreme Court, the Bar took the extraordinary step of investigating Daniel Uhlfelder twice for the same allegedly unethical conduct when he attacked the governor’s COVID-19 policy in 2020.

The justices rejected a call from the Florida Bar Board of Governors to have Uhlfelder take an ethics refresher course, ending a first round of disciplinary torment and launching a second.

“I have not seen that occur ever,” said retired Justice R. Fred Lewis, who spent 20 years on the state’s highest court. “It’s like they started all over again.”

In the second round, a Bar lawyer worked with the Uhlfelder grievance committee to find ethics rules he may have broken. The Bar wound up citing Uhlfelder for this: He failed to tell the First District Court of Appeal his two co-counsels had quit.

In fact, under court rules those Tallahassee lawyers, William Gautier Kitchen and Marie Mattox, were personally responsible for formally asking the court to let them withdraw from Uhlfelder’s case against DeSantis. This wasn’t a task they could delegate to Uhlfelder or anyone else.

Daniel Uhlfelder

Kitchen referred Florida Bulldog to his and Mattox’s Bar lawyer, Richard Bush of Tallahassee. But Bush did not respond to a Florida Bulldog detailed email request for comment.


The new Uhlfelder charges have nothing to do with the initial claim that had the Board of Governors calling for an easy, non-punitive resolution. Instead of agreeing as usual, however, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the same grievance committee for a second try.

In 2020 Uhlfelder embarrassed the governor by dressing up as “the Grim Reaper” and striding across beaches DeSantis refused to close to the public. National media took note while Florida’s COVID-19 death toll spiked.

Uhlfelder also started a political action committee in a bid to defeat DeSantis in 2022 and campaigned unsuccessfully to be the Democratic alternative to Attorney General Ashley Moody. She and the governor both won reelection.

This month Bar Counsel Olivia Paiva Klein all but admitted conducting a fishing expedition to net new charges against Uhlfelder, according to a hearing transcript. Because the grievance committee didn’t see the original charge as “the major issue,” she said, “they came out with other rules and discussions about what was going on in the cases.”

Apparently all they could find was a technical foul – plus two lawyers, Kitchen and Mattox, whose own conduct in the DeSantis case also was under scrutiny by Bar regulators.


Former Florida Supeme Court Justice R. Fred Lewis

In the second round of Uhlfelder disciplinary proceedings, the Bar initially delayed even telling him which ethics rules he’d allegedly flouted. It wasn’t until after the grievance committee found probable cause to charge him with rule violations that he knew how much trouble he was in – again.

At the April 2 hearing, Klein promised to hand over evidence to Uhlfelder’s lawyer; the case is set for a final referee hearing on June 21. The Supreme Court determines the punishment.

“You would have expected more [due] process than Mr. Uhlfelder was given,” former Justice Lewis told Florida Bulldog after he read the hearing transcript.

In September 2021 Lewis submitted an affidavit defending Uhlfelder against the original Bar charge: He pursued meritless litigation that targeted the governor for political reasons.

“The Florida Bar should not discipline a critic of the Governor … for calling into question the decisions the Governor has made and the action or inaction about COVID-19,” Lewis wrote. Eventually that charge fizzled out.

Because grievance committee proceedings are closed, Lewis said, he’s less familiar with the facts behind the current charges. He cautioned against jumping to conclusions based on scant information, saying, “That will have to come out in the wash as the evidence unfolds.”

Florida Bar President Scott Westheimer did not respond to a Florida Bulldog request for comment emailed to Bar spokesperson Jennifer Krell Davis.


Uhlfelder, a real estate lawyer in Santa Rosa Beach, has been living under the cloud of a Bar complaint since Feb. 5, 2021. Someday the Supreme Court may decide to punish his behavior by censuring, suspending or disbarring him.

Florida Bar President Scott Westheimer

In 2020 Uhlfelder sued to force DeSantis to change his pandemic policy, lost his case in the trial court and went to the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. Although the trial judge dismissed the lawsuit, he said Uhlfelder was reacting “in good faith” to a public health crisis.

But his “frivolous” appeal so infuriated a three-judge 1st DCA panel that it referred him to the Bar for discipline. A few days later, when Uhlfelder implied in an interview that the judges favored DeSantis, the panel ordered a state prosecutor to charge him with criminal contempt.

That case remains unresolved. The 1st DCA keeps its Uhlfelder docket open for updates; they’re at Number 38.

Such contempt orders are rare. And this happened only in Uhlfelder’s case: After the Bar’s Board of Governors recommended an ethics refresher course instead of punishment, the Supreme Court ordered the grievance committee do-over.


Similar to grand juries, Bar grievance committees operate in darkness. And just as prosecutors guide grand juries to indictments, Bar counsels coach grievance committees to reach decisions about charging lawyers with ethics violations.

The April 2 Bar hearing transcript provides a peek at Part Two of the Uhlfelder grievance committee saga. At the hearing the referee, Taylor County Circuit Court Judge Gregory Parker, considered Uhlfelder’s motion to dismiss his case based on due process grounds.

His Tampa lawyer, Scott Tozian, argued that he couldn’t defend against the new allegations because he didn’t know what they were until the grievance committee voted to charge Uhlfelder with rule violations. At that point they entered the public domain.

“We had no earthly idea what they’re considering,” Tozian said, adding that the Bar didn’t share evidence or give them an opportunity to respond.

The Bar’s purported reason for secrecy dovetails conveniently with the new Uhlfelder charges. There have been three Bar cases, naming Uhlfelder, Kitchen and Mattox. Klein said she couldn’t share information with Uhlfelder from the other two cases because, as Bar counsel, she has a duty of confidentiality to Kitchen and Mattox.

At the end of the April 2 hearing, Parker denied Uhlfelder’s motion to dismiss but gave him permission to refile it later.


Here’s what the Bar complaint says happened when the DeSantis case got to the 1st DCA:

On Nov. 13, 2020 a three-judge panel (Judges Adam Tanenbaum. Bradley Thomas and Susan Kelsey) denied the appeal and started sanction proceedings against Uhlfelder and his co-counsels in the trial court, Kitchen and Mattox, for filing a “frivolous” action.

First District Court of Appeal Judges Adam Tanenbaum, top left, Bradford Thomas and Susan Kelsey

Later that day Mattox emailed Uhlfelder: “Daniel – I’m concerned about the court’s order that was recently entered. I have not been a part of this appeal at all and did not know that my name was on the notice of appeal when it was filed. I just looked at all of the documents and I am very concerned about this. I need something filed with the Court acknowledging that I am not responsible for the appeal or anything else that may come from the appeal. Can you please confirm that you will take care of this? Thank you.” Mattox said she was speaking for Kitchen as well.

According to Mattox, Uhlfelder agreed to deliver her message to the court but failed to follow through. As a result, the 1st DCA also referred her and Kitchen for Bar investigation.

The Uhlfelder Bar complaint alleges he violated rules against misconduct, “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” and “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice;” he broke another rule requiring “candor toward the tribunal.”

The complaint doesn’t mention Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.440(d)(3): a lawyer who wants to step out of a case “must first seek leave of court to withdraw. The attorney must file a motion for that purpose stating the reasons for withdrawal and the client’s address. A copy of the motion must be served on the client and adverse parties.”

Florida Bulldog wanted to ask Kitchen and Mattox why they didn’t follow that procedure, especially when Mattox expressed deep concern about being misidentified on the appeal as Uhlfelder’s co-counsel. But Kitchen said their lawyer, Bush, would answer questions, and Bush was silent.


The Bar opened files on Kitchen and Mattox but decided not to file charges against them. The Supreme Court finally agreed they should be allowed to attend an ethics refresher course, accepting the same recommendation the court rejected for Uhlfelder.

Florida Bulldog could not determine whether Kitchen and Mattox made a deal for leniency in exchange for testifying against Uhlfelder.

Justice Lewis noted it’s wrong to put lawyers’ names on pleadings when they aren’t involved in a case, but “these were people involved in the case.

“If it was a misunderstanding about who was where, that’s such an easily remedied situation with just one phone call,” he said.

Lewis underscored Bar Counsel Klein’s statement at the April 2 hearing about searching for rule violations with the Uhlfelder grievance committee.

“That’s the kind of thing that happens when somebody’s just struggling and grasping at straws,” Lewis said. “It’s almost an admission of the weakness of the position. They couldn’t support what the court told them to look at so they had to go find something else.

“I can appreciate that the Bar counsel feels pressure because of the Court’s order, but that should not change what they do in this kind of problem area,” he said. “They should not be a ‘yes’ person: ‘You told me to find something so I’ll find something wrong.’ “

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • Ms. Marcus
    This report is one of the best you have written. Thank you for writing it.

    It is, in my opinion, reprehensible that the Florida Supreme Court insists upon dictating that Daniel Uhlfelde be reprimanded for attacking Governor Desantis. This is the sort of behavior that appellate courts should avoid.

    As justice Lewis said “grasping at straws”

  • Uhlfelder should move to D.C. and begin defense preparations for Fauci after President Trump wins (for the 3rd time) the election and charges Fauci with fraud. After he loses the case he can team up with the comic Zelensky (if he’s not dead) for more of the spotlight he so desperately craves.

  • Trump’s debauchery was quickly emulated by DeSantis and his debauchery, which was quickly embraced by the Florida Bar and its debauchery as we see, which was quickly embraced by the 1st DCA and its debauchery, and so then by the Florida Supreme Court and its debauchery and political vindictiveness, as we see. The whole saga is contemptible and obviously corrupted by the things which always corrupt in human society and politics. These actors are supposed to be “better”, but we see where ethics in government rank in the DeSantis era, and they rank dead last. Uhlfelder is the only one with clean hands, who undertook his actions in the interest of public health. In contrast, DeSantis and Trump acted AGAINST the public health on Covid matters, and Joe Ladapo is the living, breathing, idiotic and incompetent proof. The fact that former Justice Fred Lewis is able to see the obvious injustice here is proof that it should be discernable to all the present Florida Supreme Court justices, and in their refusal to see it, and their vindictive insistence on continuing to pursue Uhlfelder, they prove their unfitness.

  • The First Amendment does not apply to critics of DeSantis?
    Well, the Viktor Orban instruction manual clearly states that the courts are critical elements when consolidating absolute power, so I guess that explains it.

  • Such a shame the Bar wastes time and money on such childish issues and completely ignores valid complaints and concerns from consumers while protecting their own on serious malpractice issues, ineffectiveness claims, malfeasance, and more. In the time and with the money they have used to zealously pursue this lawyer over NOTHING, they could have, conceivably addressed a myriad of valid complaints that would protect clients of bad, just plain lousy, lawyers. Their lack of transparency is oxymoronic and paradoxical. We alI see right through it.

  • TY BULLDOG for bringing to our attention this Political witchhunt… pushed on the Florida Bar by the Florida Supreme Court? Targeting a Lawyer for speaking out is Anti-Constitutional isn’t it? Wow! POLITICS poisons the Law no matter what PARTY. What a sad day that so-called conservative Supremes appointed by the Governor give the appearance they are beholden to the master? Justice Lewis must be very very disheartened with in these justices.

  • In my understanding, we elected DeSantis as governor. Nothing more. Instead we have gotten a tyrant. He only accepts fealty. Loyalists might appeal to his better angels, instead he brandishes power, to his own end Corcoran gets paid 2 million dollars to run a college with 700 students. And turn into a Hillsdale College. He removes duly elected officials who oppose his policies. He absconds with local control pans over. He sends our law enforcement and guardsmen all over the country in photo opportunities. Insurance rates have skyrocketed since he took took office.
    He turns down energy grants for the citizens of this state because it is woke. He turns down ACA because he is a man of cruelty. Now he threatens our education system by attacking Title IX.
    Our waters polluted, our aquifer being stolen from us, public education disfavored over campaign donations.
    That he chooses to wield his crony power over Uhlfelder is not a shock. It is his modus operandi. He is a thug.

  • Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. Uhlfelder wins his 15 minutes of fame and the ethics penalty. LOL

leave a comment