Campaign 2014

Former Florida House candidate fights to get back on the ballot

 

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Miami Beach publicist Laura Rivero Levey isn’t giving up her bid for the Florida House just yet.

The Republican was disqualified from the District 113 race earlier this month, after a check she submitted to the Department of State bounced.

Without any other opposition, incumbent Rep. David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat, was automatically re-elected.

But Levey says the bank is responsible for the mishap — and the bank accepts the blame. Levey is suing Secretary of State Ken Detzner to have her candidacy reinstated.

“I hope I get back on the ballot,” she told the Herald/Times. “It wouldn’t be fair to my constituents if they were not given a choice.”

Department of State spokeswoman Brittany Lesser declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Levey, 49, is not a political newcomer. She ran unsuccessful campaigns to become Miami Beach mayor in 2009 and 2011, and was elected Republican county executive committeewomen in 2012.

She recently set her sights on Florida House District 113, which includes Miami Beach and parts of downtown Miami and Little Havana.

Last month, Levey received $2,000 from the Republican Party of Florida to help kick off her campaign. She deposited the money into a SunTrust Bank account, according to the lawsuit.

Levey later wrote a check from the same account for $1,781.82 to cover the state filing fees. She submitted it on June 17, the second day of the week-long period in which candidates must submit their qualifying documents and fees.

The check bounced on June 23, according to state records. By that time, the qualifying period had ended.

Levey says she was not notified until July 1. She received a formal letter on July 3 asking her to pay a dishonored check processing fee of $89.09.

Her husband, attorney Lewis Levey, told reporters he was stunned.

“My wife has never bounced a check in her life and she’s a millionaire,” he said at the time. “The bank put a hold on the two grand that was in the account. Nobody told us.”

Laura Levey lists her net worth as $2.2 million in campaign documents.

Levey sent a new check to the state on July 3. She also submitted a letter from SunTrust Senior Vice President David Rowan saying a “bank error” was to blame for the original check being returned.

“As this error was due to no fault of our client, we respectfully request that you allow our client to reinstate her candidacy, waive any fees and remove any delinquent reporting that may have occurred as a result of the returned item,” Rowan wrote.

The state department did not accept Levey’s new check.

“No qualifying documents are accepted after the close of the qualifying period,” the Bureau of Election’s Kristi Reid Bronson wrote to Levey on July 11.

Levey’s attorneys filed the lawsuit in Leon County last week. The three defendants: Detzner, Richardson and Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections CQPenelope Townsley.

In the lawsuit, Levey’s attorneys note that under state law, “if a candidate’s check is returned by the bank for any reason, the filing officer shall immediately notify the candidate and the candidate shall have until the end of qualifying to pay the fee.”

Levey, they argue, was not given a chance to write a new check during the qualifying period.

“In this case, the electorate should not be denied of the opportunity to vote for Levey, especially when the secretary failed to comply with the very statute which the secretary now claims to be sole basis for disqualification,” her attorneys wrote.

When contacted by the Herald/Times, SunTrust officials declined to elaborate on the bank error.

“We don’t comment on client relationships, and have worked with, and responded directly to, our client on this matter,” spokesman Hugh Suhr said.

Richardson, the incumbent, referred questions about the lawsuit to his attorney, Mark Herron.

Said Herron: “We believe that the decision of the Divisions of Elections to basically disqualify Ms. Levey is the appropriate decision consistent with the law.”

Before the suit was filed, Richardson had already begun celebrating his re-election — online, at least.

“As of today, I AM THE OFFICIAL UNCHALLENGED WINNER in my re-election to the Florida House of Representatives District 113,” he wrote on his Facebook wall after learning that Levey had been disqualified. “You just can't make this stuff up.”

Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.

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