The University of Florida now says three professors who initially weren’t allowed to testify as paid expert witnesses against the state can testify, if they aren’t paid.
The university had denied the professors’ requests to testify for the plaintiffs in a voting rights lawsuit.
The case challenges parts of a new voting law, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May. An attorney for the plaintiffs says the legislation “imposes substantial and unjustifiable restrictions on the ability of eligible Floridians to vote and register to vote.”
“Me signing this bill says: Florida, your vote counts, your vote is going to be cast with integrity and transparency and this is a great place for democracy,” DeSantis said after signing the bill.
The university said Monday, “It is worth noting, the university views the professors’ request as a request to be paid to testify against the state, and the university, as a public institution, is part of the state — therefore, that would be adverse to the university’s interests. However, to be clear, if the professors wish to do so pro bono on their own time without using university resources, they would be free to do so.”
The governor’s office said the policy was in place before the law was passed and reiterated that the university can deny requests that “are contrary to the institution’s interests.”
“For the record, the UF policy was last updated a year ago, prior to SB 90 — so the university’s policy could not possibly have been a reaction to this lawsuit. The Governor’s Office did not make UF’s policy, and there is zero evidence to suggest otherwise,” spokesperson Christina Pushaw said.
According to court records, the university denied Professor Daniel Smith‘s request to testify in an October 11 email that stated, “outside activities that may pose a conflict of interest to the executive branch of the State of Florida create a conflict for the University of Florida.”
Smith studies how “political institutions affect political behavior across and within the American states,” according the university’s website.
Sharon Austin is an author and expert on “rural African American political activism” and “African American political behavior,” according to the university, while Michael McDonald studies elections, methodology, and has researched voter turnout.
CNN has reached out to the three professors and their attorneys and has not yet received responses.
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