The judge disqualified Rebecca Jones from running as a Democrat in the August 23 primary.

A Leon County Circuit Court judge made the ruling Friday Rebecca Jones He could not run as a Democrat in the August 23 primary election.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge John Cooper disqualified Jones as a candidate at the end of a virtual hearing Friday. The lawsuit was brought by his Democratic opponent. For Florida’s 1st Congressional District, Peggy Schiller.

“It’s not a happy decision to make,” Cooper said, explaining his decision. “I think anyone who puts themselves out there for office should be applauded.”

Rebecca Jones

Rebecca Jones

The Peggy Schiller lawsuit: The opponent filed suit against Rebecca Jones, challenging eligibility.

Hearing set: Is Rebecca Jones eligible for Florida office? The judge will hear arguments next week.

A Florida election law passed last year requires any party running for office to be registered as a party member for a full year before qualifying begins in June.

Jones released a statement on the matter. The campaign’s Facebook page said on Friday that she would appeal the decision.

“We are appealing immediately, and voters can rest assured that we will not allow Peggy Schiller, her GOP attorney or anyone else to steal this election from the voters,” Jones wrote.

Schiller, A Retired Corporate Attorney who lives in Walton County and has been active in the local Democratic Party there, also issued a statement. Campaign Facebook page He said he was happy with the decision.

“I believe justice has been served,” Schiller said.

Peggy SchillerPeggy Schiller

Peggy Schiller

If Jones had won the Aug. 23 primary, the Republicans would have disqualified Jones under the same legal arguments, Schiller said.

“I’ve always wanted to do this campaign to defeat my poor excuse for a Rep. Matt Gaetz,” Schiller wrote. will unite with me in achieving the

Florida’s 1st Congressional District covers northwest Florida and is a Republican stronghold. Rep. Matt Gaetz currently holds the seat but faces a well-funded primary challenge from former FedEx executive and Vietnam veteran Mark Lombardo, as well as former military pilot Greg Murk.

Getz reacted to this. Order on Twitter by saying this He doesn’t celebrate that voters were denied a choice and that it was “small” of Schiller to want Jones defeated in the courtroom rather than during the primaries.

“That said, the judge appears to have followed the law and Rebecca Jones is a fraud in virtually everything she does,” Getz said.

Jones He became a national figure. After being fired from the Florida Department of Health in 2020.

He blamed top state health officials for firing him Denial of manipulation of COVID-19 data to support the push to reopen Florida after months of quarantine. He has made several appearances in national media outlets to raise the alarm about the manipulation of state data by administration officials. expressed doubts about his allegations From the beginning.

A state inspector general gave her whistleblower status, but a state investigation completed earlier this year determined There was no evidence To support his claims.

What is the case against Rebecca Jones?

Schiller’s The lawsuit alleges While living in Maryland in 2021, Jones registered to vote in the state as a Democrat in April 2021. He subsequently “unaffiliated” his party affiliation on 11 June 2021.

The documents show Jones switched his affiliation back to Democratic on Aug. 11, which would mean Jones did not meet the registration requirement for nearly two months.

Jones testified that he had registered to vote as a Democrat in Maryland only once and that he had not made two other changes in registration to the state of Maryland.

Rebecca Jones Platform: Democrat Rebecca Jones says she can win in Northwest Florida.

Peggy Schiller: The furore prompted Peggy Schiller of Walton County to run against U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Jones’ attorney, Ben Kuehne, pointed out during Jones’ testimony that Jones gained wide fame after his shooting.

Jones said she moved to Maryland because she was receiving death threats.

In explaining his decision, Cooper said it was not impossible that someone hacked Jones or used his information to change his voter registration, but that the weight of other evidence made it unlikely. gave

Jones Filed to run for Congress with the Federal Election Commission on June 25, 2021, as an independent candidate. He switched his candidacy to the Democratic Party with the FEC on August 12, 2021, one day after Jones changed his voter registration to Democratic in Maryland.

Kuhn also argued that his decision to run as an independent before becoming the Democratic nominee in June 2021 had no bearing on his individual party affiliation with the Democratic Party.

Cooper said he didn’t buy that legal argument.

Rebecca Jones Speaks During A Protest Over High Electricity Bills In Front Of Pensacola City Hall Before A Meeting On February 10.Rebecca Jones Speaks During A Protest Over High Electricity Bills In Front Of Pensacola City Hall Before A Meeting On February 10.

Rebecca Jones speaks during a protest over high electricity bills in front of Pensacola City Hall before a meeting on February 10.

A key point that Cohen made repeatedly was that two of the changes Jones made that he did not make to Maryland’s voter registration did not include his middle name.

JC Planas, Schiller’s lawyer and a former Republican state lawmaker who left the party after Donald Trump’s election, said Jones’ argument did not stand up to scrutiny.

“Someone has all her information, is trying to discredit her by making her a nonpartisan registered voter in Maryland at the same time she’s filing to run for Congress as an independent and press Stating that she’s running as an independent, her argument doesn’t hold water at all,” Planas said.

Cooper said he was initially convinced by the discrepancy in the names on the forms until he saw the FEC forms and Jones’ own testimony that he had not prepared his own campaign forms.

“At some point, you can prove guilt with circumstantial evidence,” Cooper said. “…there is no credible evidence that anyone else did it or that anyone else was encouraging it. There is overwhelming evidence of Ms. Jones or anyone assisting Ms. Jones in a campaign to do this. are.”

Cooper said he did not enjoy his rule but had no choice based on the evidence.

“I don’t think I can come to any other conclusion than Ms. Jones was not a registered member of the Democratic Party for about two months during that (prime) period,” Cooper said.

As Cooper was explaining her decision, Jones interrupted her by saying that she could provide documents that proved she had been hacked. The judge immediately kicked him out of Zoom’s hearing, saying he didn’t allow anyone to speak during the ruling, especially the parties in the case.

Cooper allowed Jones to return to the hearing with the direction that he was not allowed to speak. When she was allowed back into the virtual hearing, Jones said she didn’t realize she wasn’t silent when she first spoke.

Jones can appeal the decision, and Cooper said he would enter a final order in the case by Monday to give Jones as much time as possible to appeal the case.

Ballots have already been sent out to voters in the race between Schiller and Jones.

If the 1st District Court of Appeal upholds the ruling, Schiller will automatically win the Democratic nomination on August 23, and any ballots cast for Jones will not be counted.

Jim Little can be reached at jwlittle@pnj.com and 850-208-9827.

This article originally appeared on the Pensacola News Journal: Rebecca Jones is disqualified from running as a Democrat in the Aug. 23 primary.