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GOP Attorney Who Resigned Over Jones Raid Questions DeSantis’ Motives

Sarasota attorney Ron Filipkowski said he may be one of the only Republicans speaking out publicly about the state's handling of the pandemic, but others feel the same way.
Sarasota attorney Ron Filipkowski said he may be one of the only Republicans speaking out publicly about the state's handling of the pandemic, but others feel the same way.

Sarasota attorney Ron Filipkowski says he was already unhappy with the state's COVID-19 response. The raid, which he sees as an attempt to silence Rebekah Jones and her sources, was the final straw.

A Republican attorney from Sarasota is speaking out against a raid by state police on the home of a former health department employee.

Ron Filipkowski resigned from his position as vice chair of the 12th Judicial Circuit Nominating Commission in protest after serving on the commission for a decade.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers served a warrant to Rebekah Jones on Monday,seizing her computers and cell phone at gun point.

Jones developed Florida’s coronavirus dashboard and was operating a similar web page on her own after being fired in May. She frequently criticized the state for not being transparent about the severity of the pandemic.

Authorities accuse her of hacking into the Department of Health’s messaging system to urge employees to speak out about the coronavirus.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has denied involvement in the investigation. But Filipkowski, a vocal critic of President Trump, doesn't buy it.

He told WUSF's Stephanie Colombini he suspects motives for the raid go beyond the alleged crime:

Do you think the state has much of a case here?

I don't really think they're [state law enforcement] interested in charging her [Jones] criminally. I don't think that that's the game here, that that's the goal.

I think that the goal is to silence and intimidate her. But really, more importantly, to silence and intimidate people currently working in the state government, you know, and to send a message to them.

First of all, find out who's talking to her and directly go after them, through discipline, demotion or termination. So I think that that's probably the main goal.

I would be shocked if she ever gets a criminal charge, especially now that it's gotten so much attention, I think that's even less likely to occur.

I know that she has denied sending the emails, I don't even really care about that.

Even if she did send the emails, to me, the Florida necessity defense, which is you're allowed to break the law to prevent a more serious harm from occurring, is very available to her. To me, if she sent the emails, that's what she did.

When you resigned, you basically said this was the final straw when it comes to the state's handling of this pandemic. What has been your problem with the governor's response that made this so significant?

It’s that we don’t have one. I mean, we don't have a response you know? Well definitely not the last two months, when he [DeSantis] issued his order that took everybody by surprise out of the blue, where he just upped and announced we weren't going to have any more restrictions. And local governments aren't allowed to impose any restrictions either, or fine anybody or do anything.

Everything that he's done on COVID policy has been at Trump's insistence, or direction of what Trump wants to happen in Florida. And that was all based on Trump's reelection.

So our health policy in the state of Florida, to me, has been held hostage by Trump's reelection.

And the problem that I have is that Florida is a state which has a huge elderly population of high-risk people. We're a tourist state, so we have a lot of people coming and going. And so we're a petri dish, you know, it's like we're a tinderbox and he's [DeSantis] lighting matches.

What did you hope to accomplish by resigning?

I didn't know if it would accomplish much, you know, really, I just thought it was going to be a local story. I'm really not high up on the food chain as far as political appointees go.

But there's so few people willing to do it, especially inside the party, you know, willing to sacrifice anything or give anything up. So I think that had there been more people of conscience willing to do something like this, I would have been a blip.

I saw someone on Twitter thank you for being “the unicorn of the Republican Party.” Do you feel that way? What have

you heard from your colleagues?

Well, “unicorn” just as far as going public, but there's so many Republicans – and I mean, from United States senators to, you know, just average citizens, who really strongly disagree with what's going on.

I know there are because they contact me, they have contacted me in the last 24 hours. People that I wouldn't have even thought, because they keep quiet, that have come out of the woodwork and said, ‘I completely agree with you on everything you said and everything you're doing.’

And would they say it publicly? No. So I think that that's really the difference.

Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.