July 28, 2022
CCDF-USA-Polk would like to address an article that was published in The Ledger July 27, 2022. This article is about a document that was brought to our attention by multiple citizens last week. The document is regarding Sara Jones, Polk County School Board District 6 candidate, and her failure to appear as directed by Polk County Circuit Court Judge Helms.
Jones, a criminal defense attorney, filed an appeal for one of her clients on January 12, 2022. It was not accompanied by a filing fee when processed on January 14. The court issued a standard fee order. Jones did not respond. On January 23, the court issued an order to respond to the January 14 standard order fee or risk sanctions. Jones did not respond. On May 17 Jones was sent an order to appear on June 7 and respond to the order by June 2. Jones did not respond by June 2. Jones did not appear on June 7. When she did not appear, the clerk’s office contacted Jones’ office and was advised by Jones’ assistant that Jones would not appear. Due to Jones’ repeated failures to comply with the court, the court has referred this matter to The Florida Bar for investigation and any appropriate proceedings.
We did not respond publicly until we were able to conduct the first step of our Matthew 18 approach and speak with Sara Jones privately. We were first informed of this matter on July 18, 2022, and we called Sara Jones that day. We reached out to her again last week but were unable to make contact and did not hear back from her in response to our messages. On July 25, 2022, we contacted Sara Jones and heard from her on this matter. We wanted her to have the opportunity to release a proactive statement to this information rather than a reactive response before it went public. Jones informed us that she had no intention of releasing this information to the public, however, would address it publicly if brought to light. Once we were able to communicate with her, Sara was open to speaking with us regarding this matter.
When we spoke, Jones took ownership for the mismanagement of her appeal filing and her staff responsibilities in the matter. She confirmed what happened and that she has since made corrections in her office procedures to avoid miscommunication and mismanagement of this nature in the future. She also verified that Don Juan Julio, the named Appellant, and client she chose to take, is the Don Juan Julio from the largest heroin bust in Polk County history. She said it is not uncommon for her to choose to take high-profile cases.
Due to the mishandling of this appeal, Don Juan Julio has been reassigned to a Public Defender. Public Defenders are assigned clients, whereas Jones was hired and chose to take on Don Juan Julio and defend him as her client.
Don Juan Julio was a Houston (Texas) heroin distributor. As part of a sting operation, he met with undercover Polk County Sheriff detectives during this investigation and was arrested, with his brother, on November 28, 2019.
When Don Juan Julio was arrested in November 2019, he possessed a street value of more than one million dollars of heroin, which is an estimated 37,500 hits of heroin, to be distributed throughout Polk County.
In 2019, 698 people died from heroin overdoses In Florida. In 2020, 639 people died from heroin overdoses. This is a significant statistical decrease following the seizure of the heroin that Don Juan Julio brought to Polk County in late November 2019. That seizure removed an enormous amount of drugs that would have been distributed right here in our county.
Having this document surface has shed light on something that causes great concern, and the citizens of Polk County deserve to be made aware. CCDF-USA believes that school board members should operate with the highest integrity and be held to the highest of standards. A strong moral compass is essential. Criminal Defense Attorney is a necessary and respected profession in our country where individuals are innocent until proven guilty. They do have the capacity to choose who they defend. Defending those that facilitate the addiction and death of others is not something we condone. Sara Jones has made it clear that she will continue her work as a criminal defense attorney if she is elected to the Polk County School Board. We have deep concerns about her ability to simultaneously defend high-profile criminals that bring harm to Polk County while also being responsible for the welfare of the students, staff, and families of our county.