A Miami-Dade judge Wednesday held off ruling on mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado’s lawsuit to disqualify incumbent Carlos Gimenez from the race, agreeing to give the challenger’s lawyers more time — a matter of hours — to defend litigation that the mayor’s legal team calls a “charade.”
Judge Michael Hanzman set a 5 p.m. hearing for a key ruling in Regalado vs. Gimenez, which was filed last Thursday in the midst of early voting for an election deciding who will be Miami-Dade’s next mayor. At issue is an $1,800 qualifying check Gimenez delivered to the Elections Department on June 17 that was dated 2015 instead of 2016. The county agency, which Gimenez supervises, called his campaign for a replacement. It arrived the night before the June 21 qualifying deadline for the Aug. 30 primary.
Hanzman convened the two sides for an 8:30 a.m. hearing, but granted Regalado lawyer Peter Gonzalez’s request for more time to respond to motions to dismiss the litigation from both Gimenez and Miami-Dade itself, which represents Elections chief Christina White in the suit.
Regalado, a school-board member, initially claimed a bank returned Gimenez’s qualifying check, then dropped that allegation from her suit after an Elections administrator testified Saturday that the check never left her office. An amended complaint now focuses on the claim that Elections broke state law when it flagged the check error for the Gimenez campaign. “As the ultimate supervisor of [White], Gimenez improperly benefited from his power and influence,” the amended complaint reads.
In a statement, White said Elections routinely asks candidates to fix errors in filing materials, including an outdated form it invited Regalado to change days before the Gimenez error was caught. In a court filing, Miami-Dade said state law allows election staffers to contact candidates about errors in order to “act as a good public servant.”
In his motion to dismiss, Gimenez lawyer J.C. Planas wrote “Regalado is trying to poison the electorate with fear that the votes that have already been cast may not count.” He urged Hanzman to “see past this charade.”
Gimenez has not attended any of the proceedings in the suit, but Regalado, a lawyer, has. She arrived four minutes late to Wednesday’s hearing and took her seat at the plaintiff’s table as the judge addressed the attorneys.
Sitting in the audience Wednesday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court was Frederick Bryant, who finished a distant third in the seven-candidate mayoral primary.
He said he considers Gimenez’s second qualifying check valid, and that Gimenez is a legitimate candidate for mayor.
But Bryant, a retired teacher, said he wrote Hanzman a letter asking that, if the judge rules in Regalado’s favor, he order a redo of the mayoral primary without Gimenez rather than leave Regalado as the only candidate in the Nov. 8 runoff. Gimenez took 48 percent of the primary vote, just short of the 50 percent threshold needed to end the race in August. Instead, he’s in a runoff with second-place finisher Regalado, who received 32 percent of the primary vote. Bryant took 9 percent.
“Since she and I were second and third, it should be a runoff between us,” said Bryant, who has not made an endorsement in the mayoral race. “I would like to be involved if Gimenez is eliminated. Because I should be.”