Federal judge dismisses McGraw lawsuit

Judge's gavel

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit challenging Gov. Ron DeSantis’ removal of a sitting School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) member last year.  

U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor of the Northern District of Florida dismissed the claim that DeSantis stepped outside his power when removing Diyonne McGraw from the SBAC on June 17, 2021. Winsor also denied McGraw’s request for relief against Gainesville attorney Jeff Childers and his client, Khanh-Lien Banko, McGraw’s opponent in the 2020 school board race.   

“Plaintiff’s claims for injunctive relief against the Governor in his official capacity, and against Banko, Childers, and Childers Law, are dismissed without prejudice for lack of standing,” Winsor wrote in his decision, which he issued Friday. “All remaining claims are dismissed on the merits for failure to state a claim.” 

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McGraw’s removal from office came after authorities realized she lived outside of the district that she represented, District 2. Her suit claimed that the defendants conspired against her.  

“Even if McGraw is right that the Governor should’ve followed different procedures in removing her from office, I cannot say that his actions—or the other Defendants’ actions in bringing McGraw’s situation to the Governor’s attention—were so arbitrary or egregious as to shock any reasonable person’s conscience,” Winsor wrote. 

In April, Alachua County Judge Monica Brasington of Florida’s Eighth Judicial Circuit ruled against McGraw, forcing an appeal. 

McGraw’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment, but Childers said the judge’s decision was logical.  

“Just about anyone who looks at this situation immediately recognizes that Ms. McGraw did not live in the right district to hold the office,” Childers said in a text message to Mainstreet Daily News. “Despite her clever attempts to turn the issue into a civil rights campaign, arguing that her right to vote was somehow impaired, the courts worked properly and have fully and finally dismissed her baseless case.”  

DeSantis appointed Mildred Russell to fill the seat on Aug. 18, 2021, and now Russell will face McGraw in the school board elections next week. Three other SBAC seats will also appear on the ballot.  

So far, Russell has garnered more campaign funds than McGraw—$38,126 compared with $24,583. But both numbers are down from 2020, when McGraw raised more than $177,000 to gain the school board seat against Banko, who raised just over $71,000. 

McGraw’s removal from the school board changed a 3-2 voting bloc that had moved quickly to hire Superintendent Carlee Simon, who enacted significant changes at the school district. Russell’s arrival created a new 3-2 bloc, which voted to fire Simon in March, following mixed performance reviews and mask debates with the state.  

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with quotes from the decision and Jeff Childers.

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