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St. Johns County Commissioner files federal lawsuit against board

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — Action News Jax Ben Becker has learned St. Johns County Republican Commissioner Krista Joseph filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday against four other Republican board members and State’s Attorney R. J. Larizza claiming her First Amendment rights were violated.

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It comes following the conclusions reached in the 15 page “Treadwell Report” that was submitted by an outside law firm to county attorney David Migut on Monday and is scheduled to be discussed at the upcoming board meeting next Tuesday. The firm was hired by board members Sarah Arnold, Christian Whitehurst, Roy Alaimo and Henry Dean to look into comments made by Joseph during a board of county commissioners meeting Nov. 21.

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The report says Joseph likely broke the law by campaigning during the meeting and violated the rules for behavior which led her to being censured at the next meeting Dec. 5.

The report also says Joseph’s actions could lead to a civil penalty or even be referred to the State Attorney’s Office for further consideration of a criminal charge.

Joseph and the other board members have repeatedly clashed over numerous issues, including the forced resignation of former St. Johns County Administrator Hunter Conrad and the rapid increase of housing developments in the county.

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Larizza is the State’s Attorney for the 7th Judicial Circuit representing St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler and Volusia counties. A spokesperson from the office declined to comment about the lawsuit.

Federal lawsuit

Treadwell Report

On Thursday, St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) Chair Sarah Arnold issued a written response to the lawsuit:

“I fight to protect first amendment rights as they are fundamental to the foundation of the United States. However, I take just as seriously the integrity of civility and the laws that all elected officials, like myself, take an oath to follow. We are held to a higher standard to the rules and regulations that govern us, including State ethics.

“To that point, I will continue to be the steward of the taxpayers’ dollars. Commissioner Krista Keating-Joseph, as all political officials, is expected to lobby and campaign. However, what is explicitly forbidden is to do so with the use of her public office, during a public meeting and while using public resources, for the purpose of furthering her campaign agenda. The laws that Commissioner Krista Keating-Joseph has likely broken have been long established to allow officials with differing opinions to come together and do the business of government. We have passed the realm of decorum and have entered a degree of breaking the law, as the independent legal analysis has affirmed of Commissioner Krista Keating-Joseph’s actions.”

The outside legal analysis of Commissioner Krista Keating-Joseph’s actions stated, ‘We have concluded that Commissioner Joseph likely violated section 104.31. … It is therefore undeniable that Commissioner Joseph was using her official authority and influence to make the election-related comments on November 21, 2023… was clearly making a campaign speech… a reasonable factfinder is likely to conclude that her behavior was willful and remains so.’”

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