Judge rejects Florida House primary challenge

Both key witnesses at the center of the contested House District 107 race denied collecting fraudulent absentee ballots on behalf of the Miami Gardens Democrat who narrowly won the primary.

Wednesday’s testimony prompted Leon County Chief Circuit Judge Charles Francis to rule against Rep. John Patrick Julien, a North Miami candidate who had alleged fraud in trying to overturn his primary election loss to Rep. Barbara Watson.

“I do not think from what I’ve heard today there is sufficient evidence to go further,” Francis said.

Julien, who lost the Aug. 14 primary by just 13 votes, had hoped testimony from Carline Paul, 54, the host of a Haitian Creole-language radio show, and Noucelie Josna, the self-described “Queen of Absentee Ballots,” would help prove his case.

But both women testified that their work for Watson — she paid Paul $1,000 and Josna roughly $4,000 — was within the law.

Paul, who traveled from Miami to testify, said she charged Watson to appear on her show like she does all political candidates. But that it was separate from her work as “Teacher Carline,” where she offers to assist people with the voting process, she told the court.

As “Teacher Carline,” Paul said she helps people understand what they need to do to ensure their vote counts but doesn’t back certain candidates.

“What I do on my radio show doesn’t have anything to do with the education that I’m giving the people,” she said. “The people of the community are confused, so I’m telling them all the steps that they have to do to ensure they are voting properly.”

Getting Josna’s testimony took more effort. Initially, she ignored a court-ordered subpoena. But once she got word that the judge had authorized police to haul her into court, she reached out and agreed to testify via Skype.

Josna did so from the office of Julien’s attorney Wednesday afternoon, saying she spent the morning in an area hospital for a medical procedure.

Josna, 28, told the court that she was hired by Watson to help coordinate her canvassing team in the mostly Haitian-American district and to keep up with voters who requested absentee ballots.

“What I do myself is I track the absentee ballots list through the website, follow it with a phone call,” Josna said.

Julien beat Watson on Election Day, but lost badly in absentee ballots. He has focused his complaint on two districts where he says fraudulent ballots were cast by nursing home residents.

Julien testified Wednesday that he had decided not to actively court absentee voters and parted ways with Paul, who had helped him previously.

Watson told the court she appeared on Paul’s show a few times because she knew the host was respected in the Haitian-American community. She said she hired Josna to reach voters by knocking on doors and distributing literature.

Francis said he did not believe any fraud had taken place. “There was not any evidence of paying for a vote,” he said. “I was listening and looking for that.”

After the case was dismissed, Watson, who faces write-ins for the Nov. 6 general election, said she was relieved at the judge’s decision. Julien and his attorney indicated that they would continue to pursue their claims that the primary was won through fraudulent activity.

Herald/Times writer Toluse Olorunnipa contributed to this report.