TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — One of Orlando’s highest-profile criminal defense attorneys said he was baffled by Gov. DeSantis’ call for a grand jury investigation regarding COVID vaccines, adding that the decision will amount to a net loss for everyone except the governor himself.
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Mark NeJame, whose 40-year career has taken him to virtually all levels of courtrooms, estimated that DeSantis’ effort would lead to an indictment and trial over a second-degree misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
For corporations like vaccine makers, the penalty would be just the fine.
“This is going to cost the taxpayers literally millions of dollars,” he said. “You’re tying up a courtroom, you’re tying up court space, all the court personnel, for what? There’s a zero gain.”
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DeSantis, sitting alongside Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, a well-known vaccine skeptic before his appointment, said during his announcement Tuesday that he’d ask the grand jury to look into “any and all wrongdoing” related to COVID-19 vaccines.
“That will come with legal processes that will be able to get more information and to bring legal accountability for those who committed misconduct,” DeSantis said.
NeJame said DeSantis would gain by putting himself in the headlines, something he has already benefited from the announcement itself.
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The governor would get a second round if the state Supreme Court green-lights the grand jury, and a third round in the likely event the grand jury indicts the pharmaceutical companies or scientists that the governor’s administration decides to go after.
Previous studies have found that grand juries side with prosecutors up to 99.9% of the time, since the defense isn’t included in that part of the court process.
“You’ve heard the old saying that a grand jury could indict a ham sandwich, and the reason for that is it’s a one-sided presentation,” NeJame said. “The other side, the pharmaceutical companies, the medical experts, the scientists and all those who have compiled all the data… they can’t present anything.”
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NeJame said if accountability was truly the motivating factor behind the investigation, DeSantis should’ve asked Attorney General Ashley Moody to pursue civil action, which he said would be more thorough, lead to more evidence being introduced through discovery and lead to a bigger possible payout for taxpayers.
However, he said there might be a few reasons why DeSantis wouldn’t be interested in that.
“They would have to show that people suffered as a result of [vaccines],” he said. “The counterbalance to that is the millions of people whose lives were saved as a result of the vaccines.”
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NeJame said a criminal conviction in this case had a near-zero chance of happening.
WFTV reached out to Desantis’ office to ask why the governor chose to go down the criminal route, but did not receive a response.
CDC data show more than 82% of Floridians have received at least one COVID vaccine dose.
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