ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A judge on Friday denied a Florida Republican congressional candidate's petition for a permanent restraining order against a former rival she accused of stalking and plotting to have her murdered by a purported foreign hit squad.
Pinellas County Circuit Judge Doneene Loar said incidents involving GOP candidate Anna Paulina Luna did not meet the legal definition needed to prove repeated harassment by William Braddock even if his actions were reprehensible.
“I have to follow the law,” Loar said during a remote hearing Friday. “Mr. Braddock, do not come back here.”
Luna is running a second time for Florida's 13th congressional district currently represented by Democrat Charlie Crist, who is leaving the seat to run for governor.
Crist defeated Luna in 2020, but she has been endorsed again on the Republican side by President Donald Trump. The open seat is considered critical to which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2022 elections.
Braddock was a candidate against Luna in 2020 and planned to run again, but dropped out amid the stalking claims by Luna and a friend, GOP activist Erin Olszewski. Loar denied a permanent restraining order sought by Olszewski as well.
Olszewski testified that she secretly recorded a phone call in June she initiated with Braddock in which he claimed the purported Russian-Ukrainian hit squad would respond quickly to kill Luna if he made a single phone call. A later text from Braddock indicated Olszewski's life also could be in danger if she talked about the plot.
“He considers people disposable,” Olszewski said. “He was willing to sacrifice the few for the greater good. It was terrifying.”
Olszewski shared that call with Luna and both women sought restraining orders against Braddock for stalking, which Loar had granted temporarily. Several other witnesses testified that Braddock made questionable comments to them about Luna and said he had been conducting surveillance at her house.
There's no evidence that Braddock, a former Marine, had such contacts in foreign organized crime or took any steps to carry out a murder plot. He did not testify in the civil stalking case and has not been charged with any crime.
His attorney, Kevin Hayslett, said Luna blew minor contacts with Braddock out of proportion and that, as a political candidate in such divisive times, she should expect some uncomfortable conversations.
“In Luna's world, people can't criticize her. Guess what? People do. Welcome to politics,” Hayslett said. “Her world is to take umbrage and offense at anyone who disagrees with her.”
Luna did not testify Friday at the hearing in which she appeared remotely. Previously, she testified she was “emotionally terrorized” by Braddock and feared him.
Luna attorney Alan Perlman said he disagreed with Loar's ruling and said the evidence clearly showed stalking by Braddock.
“To suggest this is just political banter is a non-starter,” Perlman said. “You don't use language like that.”
Other candidates seeking the congressional seat so far are Democratic state legislators Ben Diamond and Michele Raynor, former Obama administration official Eric Lynn and Christian Hotchkiss.
Luna is challenged on the GOP side by Amanda Makki, a former Washington lobbyist who lost the primary to Luna in 2020, and two other lesser-known candidates.