Rebekah Jones turned down a plea deal she believes is politically motivated and said she is willing to go to trial and risk jail to stand up to what she says is political retribution from Gov. Ron DeSantis.
On Tuesday, a Leon County Circuit Court Judge set a trial date for Jones’ case for Jan. 23, 2023. Jones is facing a felony charge of accessing a computer system without authority.
Jones easily won the Democratic Party primary for the 1st Congressional District Aug. 23 after facing a legal challenge to her candidacy, and is running against Rep. Matt Gaetz for the seat in the November election.
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Jones gained nationwide attention in 2020 after being fired from her Florida Department of Health position and alleging DeSantis’ administration manipulated data about COVID-19 cases and deaths.
A state inspector general report released earlier this year found no evidence of wrongdoing by the Department of Health, but Jones still has a case pending before the Florida Commission on Human Relations over her firing.
Prosecutors allege that after Jones was fired, she logged on to the Florida Department of Health’s computer systems and sent out a mass text message using the state emergency alert system to more than 1,700 people. The message called on state employees to speak out on COVID-19.
Jones has denied the charges.
Plea conditions negotiations
Jones told the News Journal that before the primary, she had been working on a plea deal with prosecutors. Jones said her attorneys had been negotiating on two conditions of the deal, one of which required an admission of guilt. Jones said she was willing to admit she shared in the responsibility for influencing someone else to send the mass text message.
Jones provided emails between her attorney and prosecutors that showed the plea deal was being negotiated. On July 29, Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman told Jones’ attorney she had “many folks” to consult on the plea deal.
However, on Aug. 24, a day after Jones won the Democratic primary, Cappleman offered a new plea deal, now with 11 conditions including that Jones withdraw her case before the Florida Commission on Human Relations and pay the state $21,123 for the cost of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s investigation into Jones.
The agreement also required Jones to see a licensed mental health professional for one hour per month and perform 100 hours of community service.
Cappleman told the News Journal she could not comment on plea deal negotiations.
Jones said her attorneys met with prosecutors Aug. 26, and when presented with the terms of the plea deal, she told them she would fight the charge in court.
“You don’t think that I’d be willing to go to prison to put Ron DeSantis under oath, to force him to have to answer to every lie he ever told?” Jones said.
Jones said she believes the state has gone too far by putting the condition to withdraw her Human Relations complaint.
“This is not something I’ll ever stop fighting for,” Jones said. “I don’t know if they miscalculated because they thought all I cared about was this election, or all I cared about was fame or all I cared about was money — whatever they think it was that I cared about this whole time they were off the … mark. Because the only thing I ever cared about was making sure that (DeSantis) was held responsible, and I’m going to get that.”
Jim Little can be reached at [email protected] and 850-208-9827.