TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Lawyers efforts to force the state to process unemployment claims faster hit a roadblock in court Thursday.
A judge denied their motion for a preliminary injunction, though the larger lawsuit alleging in part negligence against the state and contractor that built the website.
Attorneys hoped an injunction would have forced the state to fix the issues with the CONNECT system and process claims to Floridians faster. However, the judge said based on separation of powers, he can't grant injunctive relief.
"This is a serious case, I take them seriously. I just don't think I'm permitted to weigh in on an injunction," Judge John Cooper said during the hearing.
Judge Cooper said to give the DEO a finite number of days, as attorneys had suggested, was overly broad and not feasible, pointing out there was not evidence presented on how to fix the system or what a fix would mean.
Thursday's hearing included Marie Mattox and Gautier Kitchen, two of the attorneys behind the lawsuit against Deloitte and the Department of Economic Opportunity, finishing questioning DEO about the CONNECT system and its ability to verify and process claims properly.
Mattox asked about eligibility and if the system inaccurately deemed people ineligible when they should have been approved for benefits.
The DEO denied it deemed anyone ineligible on purpose. They also would not admit the system isn’t working, pointing to the more than 1 million people that have been paid benefits so far.
“That does not show us how many claimants have been paid in full, it only says someone has been paid something,” said Mattox.
“Yes, it says a claimant has been paid something,” the DEO responded.
“And you can’t tell us, godfather, whether that total claims paid means they’ve been paid one payment, two payments, isn’t that right?” Mattox asked.
“They could have been paid 10 payments, I do not know based on that number,” the DEO responded.
A former call center agent who says he was hired to field calls from thousands of jobless Floridians testified about his experience.
Matthew Beggarly says he was part of a level 4 training session over Zoom on April 24, which had about 25 people, including DEO representatives.
Mattox and Kitchen brought Beggarly up as their last witness on Thursday. Beggarly says during that zoom training session in mid-April, a DEO representative told them there were more than a million paper applications untouched in a tractor-trailer behind the DEO headquarters.
Kitchen says that refutes former testimony given by the CFO of DEO and what’s currently being reported on the dashboard.
Beggarly says he and other agents had many issues helping process claims for people and said the mobile-friendly site was assigning new claimants with ID numbers of people who had applied years prior and denied them because of that.
He says when he reached out to the DEO about these concerns, they rarely responded.
“Were some of them responded to with instruction to drag out the process?” Kitchen asked and Beggarly responded, “Yes. Our job was really to placate people and just get them to sit there and do as minimal as possible just so that people felt warm and fuzzy.”
“And did you actually ask at one point in writing to DEO, were you being paid to process claims or to lie to applicants?” Kitchen asked. “Yes, several times,” answered Beggarly.
Judge Cooper noted Beggarly’s testimony wouldn’t be admitted into a jury trial because there simply is no evidence to back up anything he said.
The attorneys say the training call was recorded, and they are working on getting a copy to submit as evidence.
The DEO was given the opportunity to question Beggarly but advised from asking him about how many times he and the attorneys have spoken, they had no follow up questions.
Attorneys for the DEO said the agency has sympathy for those out of work but explained circumstances presented unprecedented demands. They compared the system to that of a traffic light designed for 10,000 cars going to more than a million overnight.