A Sarasota lawyer resigned his appointment to the panel that picks judges on Tuesday to call attention to the way Gov. Ron DeSantis has handled “public access to truthful data” and the raiding of a data analyst’s home.
Ron Filipkowski, a Marine veteran, former state and federal prosecutor, and a lifelong Republican who was appointed to the 12th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission by DeSantis resigned Tuesday morning after reviewing the search warrant affidavit the state used to seize computers and phones from Rebekah Jones, the former Department of Health data analyst who has been running an alternative web site to the state’s COVID dashboard.
Filipkowski, 52, who has served on the Judicial Nominating Commission for 10 years and was twice appointed to the role by former Gov. Rick Scott and once by DeSantis, called the governor’s handling of the pandemic “reckless and irresponsible.”
“The recent events regarding public access to truthful data on the pandemic, and the specific treatment of Rebekah Jones has made the issue a legal one rather than just medical,’' he wrote in a letter to the governor’s general counsel. “...I no longer wish to serve the current government of Florida in any capacity.”
Filipkowski, who is also a former general counsel to the Sarasota Republican Party, said that although he has been increasingly frustrated by the DeSantis administration and its handling of the coronavirus crisis, the situation seemed political, he said.
Then on Monday, after Jones’ home was raided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement because it suspected her of sending a message on the Department of Health messaging system urging people to “Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late,” he told a friend something didn’t seem right.
The friend, a Trump supporter, suggested Filipkowski read the search warrant affidavit filed by FDLE and when he did, he said he was alarmed.
“What’s the crime? The crime is hacking into an email server to tell people to tell the truth?,’' he said. “That’s not a horrible crime, if it’s a crime at all.”
He compared her situation to the legal doctrine called necessity, which allows someone to break the law to prevent a more serious harm. “If what she did is illegal, it pales in comparison to the harm she was trying to prevent.”
Inspired by former Trump staff members, such as Olivia Troye, Vice President Mike Pence’s former Homeland Security adviser and COVID task force member who resigned in September over the administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, he decided to resign from the JNC.
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“Even though I was never happy with the way that DeSantis handled COVID, that is still separate and distinct from what I do on the JNC,’' he said.
“But this is different because now what you’re doing is using police powers. You’re using law enforcement in intimidating people who are trying to tell the truth and now we are crossing over to my whole life as a prosecutor, employer, crusader. This is wrong. He is taking it to a different level. "
He said he hoped his resignation “in my own little way could draw some more attention to it” and “to the plight of the people of Florida who I feel are not being told the truth about COVID.”
Filipkowski is not new to being a critic. He has written a letter to the editor of his hometown paper, urging people to enforce their own COVID restrictions and not patronize businesses that are not taking the virus seriously “and letting their guard down.”
He also worked with the anti-Trump Lincoln Project to support President-elect Joe Biden, and has appeared in a video by the Center for American Progress Action Fund opposing Trump’s reelection and accusing the president of politicizing the military and having “a very strong, authoritarian streak.”
Filipkowski said the hardest thing will be to face Joe Gruters, his friend and the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, who recommended DeSantis appoint him to the JNC.
“I respect Joe, and I think he’s an honest guy and I guess he might think this is not cool,’' he said. “That’s the only part I don’t feel great about.”