State Sen. Maria Sachs, a Boca Raton Democrat, came under fire from the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee on Monday for her decision to rent a condominium from Judith Stern, a Broward political consultant, and her daughter, as her means of establishing residency in the county.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who backed Sachs’ rival in a bitter general election fight, accused Sachs of not living at the condo and, as a result, “violating the law.” He used the incident to lay the groundwork for rejecting the appointment of Stern’s daughter, Barbra Stern, to the Florida Elections Commission.
Said Latvala: “The issue here for me to determine today is: Is this Elections Commission participating in flouting the Constitution?’’
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Barbra Stern, an attorney for an insurance defense firm in Fort Lauderdale, was appointed to the nine-member commission by Gov. Rick Scott at the recommendation of Sen. Chris Smith, the Senate Democratic leader. The full Senate must confirm her appointment for her to remain on the board.
Stern told the committee that her mother purchased the condo on 2424 NE Ninth St. in Fort Lauderdale for her when she graduated from law school. But, she said, she has since moved out because it was too small and her mother arranged to rent it to Sachs. She said she is not involved in renting it, does not pay the condo dues and does not collect the rent money, even though she still jointly owns the unit.
“My mom has rented it before. I’ve never asked questions about the lease, because I don’t get any involvement in it,’’ she said. She added that she does not keep track of her mothers’ business deals because “I choose not to know certain things.”
Florida law requires that legislators be residents of their districts and Sachs has a second home in Boca Raton on which she and her husband take a homestead exemption.
“I’ll kiss your feet if she spent one night in that condominium,” Latvala told reporters after the meeting.
The committee voted unanimously to confirm Stern’s appointment to the elections commission, a four-year term that began in 2012 and expires in 2015. The commission is in charge of investigating and ruling on violations of state elections code.
Latvala suggested that her failure to ask questions about the deal was evidence that Stern was complicit in allowing Sachs “to flout the law.”
“An elections commissioner shouldn’t be a party to something that is violating the law and violating the constitution,’’ he said.
Latvala supported former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, when the District 34 seat was reconfigured last year due to redistricting. The new district stretches from Palm Beach to Broward counties. Latvala had counted on Bogdanoff to help him collect enough votes to become Senate president in 2016.
He said his decision to raise the point about Sachs’ residency was “not political. It’s real life.” He noted that several senators have been forced to move their residency to remain in office or to be elected to the Senate after serving in the House.
Sachs responded in a statement: “I have fully met the requirements of the law regarding legal residency in District 34.”
“Politics ended the day that session began,” she said, noting that she is focused on other issues.
Stern’s appointment could still be rejected when it comes to a vote on the Senate floor, Latvala said.
Sachs previously told the Herald/Times she rents the condo from her friend and has written checks for it.
The committee also gave the approval to several of Gov. Rick Scott’s agency heads, including Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Department of Management Services Secretary Craig Nichols, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Mike Prendergast and Public Service Commissioner Lisa Edgar.