Florida attorney Jeff Childers gave up his for-profit clientele to represent a group of city of Gainesville employees facing termination due to their refusal to take the COVID-19 vaccines.
Now, after a major victory last week in his case representing the 250 Gainesville workers, and a victory in an appeal in June to end the mask mandate in his county, attorneys across the country are turning to him for help with similar cases.
Childers is harnessing the momentum to form a coalition of attorneys from across the country interested in taking on similar fights over mask and vaccine mandates and whatever else comes next in the fight to preserve freedom, he told The Epoch Times.
A few weeks ago, he reached out to two dozen lawyers who showed promise as “freedom fighters.” Those who accepted his invitation to a private chat on an encrypted instant messaging platform started enthusiastically inviting others. The group now includes 40 of “some of the biggest names in the country,” he said.
By midday Sept. 26, while Childers was celebrating victory with Gainesville police, firefighters, linemen, and more, there was a spirited discussion on the chat, with files flying back and forth between litigators.
That’s the part that excites him. As he and the other attorneys on his conversation thread share ideas, strategies, and files, “it increases the velocity,” he said.
One of the attorneys was planning to file a lawsuit the next day to keep Orange County, Florida, workers from being disciplined for refusing to take the vaccines.
Another had just followed Childers’s lead in a successful case fighting mask mandates, and filed a case in Jacksonville, Florida, opposing mandatory masking in Duval County Public Schools.
Others were polishing a case in Fulton County, Georgia, to take on the local school board’s policy requiring all students and teachers to wear masks.
Yet another in Florida had shared that the Clearwater City Commission had dropped from its upcoming agenda a plan to take up the discussion of mandating COVID-19 vaccines for employees.
As a result of his win against the city of Gainesville, “all municipalities in Florida are recalibrating,” Childers said. “I think we have this beat in Florida.”
Childers knew the win was “history-making.” But it’s not over, he warned the employees, who gathered on Sept. 26 to hear his update before sharing a celebratory dinner at a local restaurant.
Raising a glass in victory was James Hinson, a school resource officer in his 20th year with the Gainesville Police Department. He’d planned to stay until he reached 25 years with the force. But the vaccine mandate has good cops retiring or leaving for other jobs, he said. He’s eligible to retire in 10 months. And then, he said with a sigh, “I’m gone.”
He objected to taking the vaccine because he’s already had COVID-19.
The unvaccinated employees in Gainesville don’t know what will be required of them now that an injunction from a judge means the city can’t fire them on Oct. 1 as planned.
As of Sept. 27, five days after the judge’s ruling to block the vaccinate-or-terminate directive in Gainesville, details hadn’t been determined. City commissioners said they wanted input from employee unions before making a plan.
“The city of Gainesville will continue to strongly encourage its employees to get vaccinated as we work to improve vaccination rates among our workforce through education and incentives,” city spokeswoman Rossana Passaniti said.
“We recognize the reality of vaccine hesitancy and vaccine disinformation, but agree with public health experts that vaccination is key in our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“City leaders will continue to meet with union leaders before presenting an employee vaccination plan to the commission as directed.”
A meeting between city officials and officials with the Communications Workers of America union was scheduled for Oct. 4, she said. It was unclear when other unions would join the conversation.
But that kind of talk irks Childers. And that’s why he’s determined to use what he’s learned to help other attorneys around the country save time as they take up similar fights.
“It seems to me the employees are being treated like farm animals,” he said. “The city’s treating its employees like its property. A farmer can vaccinate his animals because they really are his property. The city was saying, ‘Do it, or you’re out of the herd.’
“These employees are free citizens. The city works for them; they’ve got it backward.”
And it’s not that he’s against vaccines, he said.
“I’m pro-choice when it comes to whether or not to get the shot,” he said. “But I can’t stand to see someone get bullied. I’ve got scars today from getting in between a bully and his target.”
On Sept. 26, Childers urged City of Gainesville employees to stay organized.
“My first objective was to save your jobs,” he said. “Now you have momentum.”
He urged employees to launch an initiative to recall Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe and any other politicians aiming to restrict their freedoms.
“They don’t share our values,” he said. “They’re not going to stop coming after us until we replace them.”
Poe responded in a prepared statement, saying: “I will continue to faithfully execute the duties of my office. The highest of these responsibilities is to protect the health and safety of our community builders and the neighbors they serve. I remain committed to that sacred duty.”
Next, Childers plans to take on the Alachua County School Board, urging members to fire the school superintendent who has defied the Florida governor’s prohibition on forced masking at public schools.
“We [in Alachua County] don’t need to get sideways with the state,” Childers said, alluding to the warning of Gov. Ron DeSantis that school districts that force mask-wearing would face financial penalties. “That’s not helping the children of Alachua.”
As his group grows, Childers hopes attorneys will lock arms to fight—and fix—what he sees as major systemic problems around the country, one lawsuit at a time.
Now, the more attorneys who jump into the fight, the better.
“We need to all be pulling in the same direction,” he said. “We need to stop playing Whac-A-Mole and playing defense, and we need to go on offense. The goal is to save America.”