A Florida judge on Monday declined to pre-emptively force Gov. Ron DeSantis to testify at a felony trial next month in Naples for a young man accused of hacking the governor’s voter registration file.
Collier Circuit Judge Joseph G. Foster indicated that he expected DeSantis to show up in court for the trial April 26, although the prosecutor hinted that a subpoena from the defense lawyer in the case may not have been delivered properly to the governor.
“We’ll wait until trial to see whether the governor shows up, and we’ll address it at that point,” Foster said during a hearing over Zoom. He told the defense lawyer, “I don’t know that the governor is not going to honor your subpoena until the governor doesn’t show up.”
A spokesman for the governor did not respond to emails Monday asking whether DeSantis intended to testify.
Anthony Steven Guevara, 20, of Naples was charged Oct. 28 – days before the 2020 election – with unauthorized computer access and altering someone else’s voter registration without their permission, both felonies. Guevara told investigators he found the governor’s birthdate on Wikipedia and used it to access the voter registration record, then changed the governor’s address to that of a minor YouTube celebrity.
The governor discovered the change when he tried voting in Leon County, which includes the state capital of Tallahassee, and was told his address pointed to a home in West Palm Beach. DeSantis, a Republican, was able to correct the issue and vote.
Guevara didn’t act with malice and considered it a prank, according to his lawyer, Mike Carr, who said the incident exposed problems with Florida’s voter registration systems.
DeSantis was identified in court records as the victim but not a witness. Carr told the judge that Guevara has a constitutional right to confront his accuser. He asked Foster to pre-emptively enforce the trial subpoena to the governor, which the judge declined to do.
“There’s been no response by anyone to my knowledge indicating they are planning on complying,” Carr told the judge. “Right now, it’s fairly clear that without your help there’s going to be a no show.”
Carr said the governor or his representatives were directed to contact him when they received the subpoena, which he said they have not done. “Just because he’s the governor doesn’t mean he can skip complying with the law,” he said in court.
The governor’s appearance would be a major inconvenience for Florida’s chief executive as he deals with distributing the pandemic vaccine and the Legislature in session until April 30. The legal dispute over compelling DeSantis to show up for trial gives the defense leverage to push for better terms under a plea deal that would avoid a trial and possible public spectacle.
“My client is entitled to a fair trial, and since the governor is the accuser, then he has to show up to the trial,” Carr said in an interview after the hearing. “The governor is being treated like a special person.”
Carr said Guevara wrote a handwritten apology letter to DeSantis acknowledging he made a mistake and telling the governor he never intended to do anything wrong.
“There’s no real criminal conduct by the client, and if they want to prosecute then we want to confront him,” Carr said.
Assistant State Attorney Deborah Cunningham said during the hearing that the subpoena sent through certified mail by the Postal Service to the governor may not have been delivered properly because no one acknowledged with a signature receiving it.
“It was never signed for,” she said. “It may have never made it to the Capitol.”
The judge did not respond to her.
Guevara apparently made no effort to disguise his digital footprints, according to court records. Investigators found evidence of Google searches for “Florida my vote,” “Florida governor” and a Wikipedia search on Guevara’s Hewlett-Packard laptop.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org