A judge Monday rejected Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado’s request to toss incumbent Carlos Gimenez off the Nov. 8 ballot after her lawyer conceded they had no evidence to back their allegation that a June qualifying check from Gimenez was rejected by a bank.
The ruling by Judge Michael Hanzman denied the central element of Regalado’s legal effort to disqualify her lone opponent in the fall mayoral race over an $1,800 check that Gimenez delivered to the Elections Department on June 17.
The handwritten check by the campaign’s treasurer had 2015 as the year instead of 2016, and an Elections supervisor contacted Gimenez’s campaign to fix the error the day before the June 21 qualifying deadline arrived. Election officials defended the call as standard procedure for candidates who submit flawed paperwork — and pointed to a similar assist given Regalado earlier this year over an outdated filing form.
“I find you have no likelihood of success,” Hanzman told Regalado lawyer Peter Gonzalez. Gonzalez had already told the judge he planned to file an amended suit that drops the allegation about the returned check, which both Elections officials and the Gimenez campaign said was never sent to the campaign’s bank. Instead, Elections held the misdated check for about 72 hours until a new one arrived. State law would have required a check returned by a bank be replaced by a cashiers check.
I find you have no likelihood of success.
Judge Michael Hanzman, speaking to Regalado’s lawyer
After a hearing that lasted less than 30 minutes, Hanzman ruled against Regalado’s request for a court order disqualifying both Gimenez and all votes already cast for him in the November runoff, which was called after the incumbent finished with 48 percent of the vote in the Aug. 30 mayoral primary. Regalado took 32 percent in the seven-candidate contest, and a runoff is required if no contender crosses the 50 percent mark in the nonpartisan primary.
The judge’s decision doesn’t end the case. Gonzalez said he planned to file an amended suit that focuses on whether Elections, a county agency that Gimenez supervises, acted properly in giving the mayor’s campaign a heads-up on the flawed check. Hanzman described himself as “skeptical” of that argument, too, but scheduled an 8:30 a.m. hearing Wednesday on whether to dismiss Regalado vs. Gimenez.
Regalado sued both Gimenez and Elections chief Christina White on Oct. 27, four days after early voting began in Miami-Dade.
Judge Michael Hanzman will hold a hearing Wednesday on whether to dismiss Regalado vs. Gimenez.
In an emergency deposition conducted at the county’s Elections headquarters in Doral on Saturday, Carolina Lopez, the agency’s deputy supervisor, testified that administrators also contacted a candidate for an obscure taxing district about a problem with a date on a qualifying check. Lopez said it was standard procedure for the department to give candidates the chance to fix errors in forms, and mentioned Regalado had also benefited from that kind of assistance.
On Monday, Regalado said she replaced an outdated filing form after being contacted by the Elections Department. She filed the first form when she officially joined the mayor’s race on March 9, 2015. Records show she filed a new form acknowledging the rules on campaign filing reports on June 7, 2016, about two weeks before the qualifying deadline.
“They called me and said, ‘Look, there’s a new form out,’” Regalado said in an interview. “So we filled it out.” She said Elections had posted an outdated form on the website when she filed. Lopez said the form in question was updated after Regalado joined the race, and that all candidates were invited to submit new ones. But using the old form would not have disqualified a candidate from a race. The invitation to use the new form “was just a courtesy to all candidates,” Lopez said.
Regalado drew a distinction between the two interventions by the Elections Department, since Gimenez’s involved state rules governing a qualifying check and hers a county form required to file for a race. “It’s completely different,” she said.
Carolina Lopez, deputy elections supervisor, said it was standard procedure for the department to give candidates the chance to fix errors in forms, and mentioned Regalado had also benefited from that kind of assistance.
In questioning Gonzalez, the judge pressed on what part of state law instructs local elections officials not to contact candidates about errors in filings. “Where does it prohibit contact?” he asked.
J.C. Planas, a former Republican lawmaker representing Gimenez in the suit, filed a motion to dismiss the case Sunday that characterized the litigation as a bid by Regalado to confuse voters in a race that “she has no chance of winning.” A Bendixen Amandi poll conducted Oct. 15 showed Gimenez ahead 55 percent to 33 percent.
Regalado’s suit “is nothing more than a last minute political maneuver intended to cause chaos,” Planas wrote. On the courthouse steps after the hearing, Planas added: “What she’s trying to do is rob the voters of a choice in this election.”
In an interview, Regalado said the suit aims at Miami-Dade’s status as the lone Florida county without an independent, elected elections supervisor. “My broader point is the mayor of Miami-Dade County should not be the head of elections,” she said.