A Leon County Circuit Court Judge dominated Friday that Rebekah Jones couldn’t stand for election as a Democrat in the first election Aug. 23.
Leon County Circuit Court Judge John Cooper disqualified Jones as a candidate on the conclusion of a digital listening to Friday in a lawsuit introduced by her Democratic opponent for Florida’s 1st Congressional District, Peggy Schiller.
“It’s not a cheerful resolution to make,” Cooper stated when explaining his ruling. “I feel that anybody who places themselves out for workplace ought to be counseled.”
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A Florida election regulation handed final yr requires anybody operating for a partisan workplace to be registered as a member of the social gathering for a full yr earlier than qualifying begins in June.
Jones put out an announcement on her marketing campaign’s Facebook web page Friday saying she would attraction the ruling.
“We’re interesting instantly, and voters can relaxation assured that we’re not going to let Peggy Schiller, her GOP lawyer or anybody else steal this election from the voters,” Jones wrote.
Schiller, a retired company legal professional who lives in Walton County and has been energetic within the native Democratic Party there, additionally issued an announcement on her marketing campaign Facebook web page saying she was happy with the ruling.
“I consider justice has been served,” Schiller stated.
Schiller stated Jones would have been disqualified beneath the identical authorized arguments by Republicans had Jones received the Aug. 23 main.
“I’ve all the time needed to make this marketing campaign about defeating our poor excuse for a consultant, Matt Gaetz,” Schiller wrote. “This will now be our solely focus, and we hope the constituents of the First Congressional District unite with me in reaching this aim.”
Florida’s 1st Congressional District covers Northwest Florida and is a Republican stronghold. Rep. Matt Gaetz at present holds the seat however is dealing with a well-financed main problem from former FedEx government and Vietnam veteran Mark Lombardo, in addition to former army pilot Greg Merk.
Gaetz reacted to the ruling on Twitter by saying he would not rejoice voters being denied a selection and it was “small” of Schiller to hunt Jones’ defeat in a courtroom fairly than in the course of the main.
“That stated, it appears apparent that the Judge adopted the regulation and that Rebekah Jones is a fraud in nearly all she does,” Gaetz stated.
Jones turned a nationwide determine after she was fired from the Florida Department of Health in 2020.
She accused prime state well being officers of firing her for refusing to govern COVID-19 information to assist the push to reopen Florida after months of quarantine. She made a number of appearances in nationwide media shops to sound the alarm about manipulation of state information whereas administration officers raised doubts about her allegations from the beginning.
A state inspector basic granted her whistleblower standing, however a state investigation accomplished earlier this yr decided there was no proof to assist her claims.
What the lawsuit in opposition to Rebekah Jones alleged
Schiller’s lawsuit alleged that whereas residing in Maryland in 2021, Jones registered to vote within the state in April 2021 as a Democrat. She then modified her social gathering affiliation to “unaffiliated” on June 11, 2021.
The paperwork present Jones modified her affiliation again to Democratic on Aug. 11, which might imply Jones missed the registration requirement by about two months.
Jones testified that she solely registered to vote in Maryland as soon as as a Democrat and the 2 different adjustments filed with the state of Maryland weren’t accomplished by her.
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Ben Kuehne, Jones’ legal professional, identified throughout Jones’ testimony that Jones gained vast publicity after her firing.
Jones stated she moved to Maryland as a result of she was getting loss of life threats.
During a proof of his ruling, Cooper stated it isn’t not possible that somebody hacked Jones or used her info to alter her voter registration, however the weight of the opposite proof made it unlikely.
Jones filed to run for Congress with the Federal Elections Commission on June 25, 2021, as an unbiased candidate. She modified her candidacy to the Democratic Party with the FEC on Aug. 12, 2021, a day after Jones’ voter registration in Maryland was modified again to Democratic.
Kuehne additionally argued that Jones’ resolution to run as an unbiased in June 2021 earlier than turning into a Democratic candidate in August 2021 had no bearing on her particular person social gathering affiliation remaining with Democratic Party.
Cooper stated he didn’t purchase that authorized argument.
One essential level of knowledge Kuehne repeatedly highlighted was the truth that the 2 adjustments Jones stated she didn’t make to her Maryland voter registration didn’t embody her center title.
J.C. Planas, Schiller’s legal professional and a former Republican state legislator who left the social gathering after the election of Donald Trump, stated Jones’ argument didn’t stand as much as scrutiny.
“Someone having all her info, making an attempt to defame her (by) making her be a nonparty registered voter in Maryland on the identical time that she’s submitting to run for Congress as an unbiased and is telling the press she’s operating as an unbiased, her argument would not maintain water in any respect,” Planas stated.
Cooper stated he was initially persuaded by the discrepancy within the names on the kinds till he noticed the FEC kinds and Jones’ personal testimony that she didn’t put together her marketing campaign kinds herself.
“At some level, you may show against the law with circumstantial proof,” Cooper stated. “…There’s no credible proof of another particular person doing this or another particular person having a motivation. There’s lots of proof for Ms. Jones or somebody aiding Ms. Jones in her marketing campaign to do that.”
Cooper stated he didn’t get pleasure from having to rule the best way he did however had no selection based mostly on the proof.
“I do not assume I can come to any conclusion aside from Ms. Jones was not a registered member of the Democratic Party for nearly two months throughout this (essential) interval,” Cooper stated.
As Cooper was explaining his ruling, Jones interrupted him by saying she might present paperwork proving she was hacked. The choose instantly kicked her out of the Zoom listening to, saying he did not permit anybody to talk throughout a ruling, notably a celebration within the case.
Cooper let Jones again into the listening to with the path that she was not allowed to talk. When she was allowed again into the digital listening to, Jones stated she did not notice that she was not on mute when she was talking earlier.
Jones can attraction the ruling, and Cooper stated he would enter the ultimate order within the case by Monday to present Jones the utmost period of time to attraction the case.
Ballots within the race between Schiller and Jones have already been mailed out to voters.
If the First District Court of Appeal upholds the ruling, Schiller will mechanically win the Democratic Party nomination on Aug. 23, and any ballots forged for Jones is not going to be counted.
Jim Little could be reached at [email protected] and 850-208-9827.
This article initially appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Rebekah Jones disqualified from operating as Democrat in Aug. 23 main