A Miami-Dade judge Thursday dismissed a lawsuit trying to disqualify incumbent Carlos Gimenez from the county mayoral race over an incorrect date on a qualifying check he filed in June and then replaced three days later after the county’s Elections Department flagged the error.
Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman wrote that plaintiff Raquel Regalado, a school board member running for mayor, misread Florida law in claiming Elections was barred from telling Gimenez’s campaign about an $1,800 check filed June 17 with the year written as 2015 instead of 2016. His campaign delivered a replacement check before the June 21 qualifying deadline.
Hanzman said the wrong year was “clearly a scrivener’s error” and that Elections, which Gimenez supervises as mayor, should be “commended and encouraged” for a policy of contacting campaigns about potential problems in filing materials. A top county elections supervisor testified Saturday the agency had also called a tax-district candidate about a flawed date on a qualifying check, and that Regalado herself was contacted about an outdated filing form.
On Tuesday, the citizens of Miami-Dade County will go to the polls to elect their Mayor. He or she will not be anointed by judicial fiat. So it is time for Plaintiff to make her ‘argument’ to those who have the power to place her in office — the voters.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman
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Regalado had sought an injunction disqualifying Gimenez from the two-candidate race and ordering Elections officials not to count any votes for the mayor — including those cast in the four days of early voting that passed before she filed her suit on Oct. 27. In a stinging closing to his Thursday decision, Hanzman ridiculed the idea that a judge would decide the 2016 mayoral race by “fiat.”
“On Tuesday, the citizens of Miami-Dade County will go to the polls to elect their Mayor,” Hanzman wrote. “He or she will not be anointed by judicial fiat. So it is time for Plaintiff to make her ‘argument’ to those who have the power to place her in office — the voters.”
Regalado worked as a lawyer before being elected to the school board in 2010, and a spokeswoman said she would not appeal Hanzman’s ruling. Regalado’s campaign released a statement that sought to cast the suit as advocating for an independent Elections office rather than a last-minute bid to knock her lone opponent off the ballot.
“The Court’s decision today reaffirms my unwavering commitment to ensure a truly independent and professional Elections Department,” she wrote. “As Mayor, I will ask the voters to amend the Charter of Miami-Dade County to elect the Supervisor of Elections, and remove that office from under the influence and the control of the Mayor.”
In a statement, Gimenez accused Regalado of trying to disenfranchise voters with her suit, which “is not only undemocratic, it is also unbecoming of someone aspiring to become Miami-Dade’s highest-ranking elected official.” In remarks to reporters, Gimenez called the suit frivolous. “Not only is she making stuff up on the campaign trail, now she makes stuff up even in court,” he said outside the polling place at the Coral Gables library. “Maybe that’s the reason why she hasn’t really worked as an attorney for the last six years.”
Hanzman had already ruled against Regalado on Monday, when he declined to issue an injunction disqualifying Gimenez and ordering elections staff not to count any votes for him. That request hinged on the allegation that a bank had returned Gimenez’s original check, which an elections supervisor testified in a deposition Saturday was not the case.
Instead, the check stayed with Elections until the replacement check arrived three days later. Three campaign staffers dropped off the new check after 10 p.m. on June 20, hours before the qualifying deadline at noon the next day. Regalado suggested the agency opened its doors for the mayor, but supervisor Christina White said in a statement that the office was open late in the nights leading up to the June 21 qualifying deadline for dozens of local races.
Gimenez took first in the seven-candidate primary held Aug. 30 for the nonpartisan post, with 48 percent of the vote. He needed to cross 50 percent to end the race outright. Instead, he was forced into a Nov. 8 runoff with Regalado, who finished second with 32 percent of the primary vote.
Not only is she making stuff up on the campaign trail, now she makes stuff up even in court.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez
Regalado revised her lawsuit after Hanzman’s Monday ruling, this time focusing on the charge that the Elections department violated Florida law when it contacted the mayor’s campaign June 20 about the flubbed check. County lawyers argued to Hanzman that Florida encourages election staffers to notify candidates when errors are spotted, and that Regalado herself was contacted in June about an outdated campaign-finance form.
Gimenez’s lawyer blasted the suit as baseless and aimed at discouraging would-be Gimenez voters in the final two weeks of a campaign that a recent poll showed Regalado losing by more than 20 points. Regalado alleged Gimenez improperly benefited from his role as the boss of Elections in the only county where the elections chief isn’t chosen by voters.
J.C. Planas, who represented Gimenez in the suit, called Regalado’s suit “extremely damaging to our democracy” for trying to impose restrictions against elections supervisors assisting people seeking to run for office. “The law absolutely requires exactly what the Elections Department did,” he said.
Oren Rosenthal, the assistant county attorney who led the defense of White, a co-defendant with Gimenez in the case, said in a statement the county was pleased that Hanzman ruled Elections “acted fairly, lawfully and in a manner which ensures that the voters of Miami-Dade County have the ability to vote for the candidates of their choice.”