A judge said he’ll rule Thursday on Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado’s suit to knock incumbent Carlos Gimenez off the 2016 ballot over a flubbed qualifying check filed in June.
Judge Michael Hanzman made the announcement at the end of an afternoon hearing Wednesday. At the proceedings, the Miami-Dade circuit judge pushed Regalado’s lawyer on why the Elections Department did anything wrong in notifying Gimenez’s campaign in June that the $1,800 check the mayor filed to qualify for the race was dated 2015 instead of 2016.
Hanzman noted that state law requires election officials to notify candidates of incomplete filings, including a missing check, but that Regalado’s lawsuit claims an incorrect check shouldn’t spark the same courtesy.
Judge Michael Hanzman noted that state law requires election officials to notify candidates of incomplete filings, including a missing check, but that Regalado’s lawsuit claims an incorrect check shouldn’t spark the same courtesy.
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“You don’t think that’s an absurd result?” Hanzman asked Regalado lawyer Peter Gonzalez. Gonzalez replied: “Judge, that’s the case” according to Florida law.
The back-and-forth came six days after Regalado, a school board member, filed her suit against Gimenez and Miami-Dade elections supervisor Christina White, who reports to the mayor.
The litigation claims that White’s staff broke the law when Gimenez was given a chance to fix the flawed check. White and deputy Carolina Lopez, who was deposed Saturday, said the agency follows state policy encouraging elections staff to notify candidates of issues with filing materials. Lopez testified that a candidate for a taxing district was called about a flawed date in her qualifying check around the same time that the Gimenez camp was contacted about its June 17 check.
Regalado’s original suit asked for an injunction ordering Miami-Dade not to count any votes for Gimenez in the Nov. 8 election; Hanzman denied that injunction on Monday. Wednesday’s hearing was to consider requests by Miami-Dade and Gimenez’s campaign to dismiss Regalado’s amended suit, which was softened to request an order by Hanzman merely “finding” that the mayor “has not properly qualified” for the race.
Pressed by Hanzman, Gonzalez acknowledged that the result would be the same — disqualifying Gimenez as a candidate in what is now a two-person race for mayor; they were the top finishers in a seven-person primary in August.
Regalado, a lawyer, has attended the court proceedings in Regalado vs. Gimenez and afterward defended the litigation as an important check on Gimenez’s dual role as candidate and head of the county’s elections arm. “There’s nothing technical about the head of elections violating the law,” Regalado said.
Oren Rosenthal, the county lawyer defending the elections supervisor in the case, told the judge it would be a mistake to ‘muzzle’ elections staff from being helpful to candidates as they seek to run for office.
In court filings, Gimenez’s campaign lawyers blasted the suit as a distraction in a race where a recent poll showed Regalado trailing by more than 20 points. “Regalado is trying to poison the electorate with fear that the votes that have already been cast may not count,” Gimenez lawyer J.C. Planas wrote in a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. He urged Hanzman to “see past this charade.”
Oren Rosenthal, the county lawyer defending White in the case, told Hanzman it would be a mistake to “muzzle” elections staff from being helpful to candidates as they seek to run for office. Rosenthal said state law mandates that election staff contact candidates in certain circumstances — such as an incomplete qualifying form — and that Florida’s election procedures generally encourage staff to reach out when they see a problem.
“Rather than being vilified for doing her job,” Rosenthal said of White, “she should be praised for complying with the state statute.”