Judge won’t reinstate candidacy for Florida House hopeful from Miami Beach

A Leon County judge said he could not extend the qualifying deadline to allow a Miami Beach publicist to run for state House.

08/08/2014 6:12 PM

08/08/2014 6:13 PM

A Miami Beach publicist won’t be on the ballot in Florida House District 113, a judge ruled Friday.

Republican Laura Rivero Levey was disqualified from the race last month after a check she submitted to the Florida Department of State bounced.

SunTrust Bank accepted responsibility for the returned check, and Levey sued to have her candidacy reinstated. But on Friday, Leon County Judge Charles Francis said he could not extend the now-passed qualifying deadline to allow her to run.

State law is clear, Francis said: Candidates must pay the filing fee before the qualifying period ends.

“I find this to be a very harsh decision,” he said. “In fact, I don’t think there is anything the candidate could have done differently that would have changed what happened during the week… But I am bound by the precedent that says when the legislature speaks as to a particular item, I am not to guess at what it means.”

The ruling means incumbent Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, will be automatically re-elected.

Richardson was already told he was the official winner. But he was waiting on the ruling to close out his campaign accounts.

After the hearing, Levey said the state Division of Elections needs to be reformed.

“What happened was very unfair and I will think about appealing [the decision],” she said.

Richardson, however, called the ruling consistent with state statute.

“It’s unfortunate for Ms. Levey because she wanted to be a candidate in the race,” Richardson said. “But the law is the law.”

Levey, 49, lost back-to-back bids to become Miami Beach mayor in 2009 and 2011. She was elected Republican county executive committeewomen in 2012.

She recently had her eye on House District 113, which includes Miami Beach and parts of downtown Miami and Little Havana.

At Friday’s hearing, Levey’s attorney said his client had submitted her paperwork and her check on time. But she was not notified that the check had bounced until after the qualifying period had ended.

“This candidate had no fault,” attorney Christopher Lunny said. “This candidate could have done nothing else.”

Disqualifying Levey, Lunny said, would have the effect of disenfranchising voters because Richardson would be automatically re-elected.

“The voters in House District 113 are not going to vote,” Lunny said. “Republicans and Democrats will not have any option in that district.”

Ashley Davis, an attorney for the Department of State, said elections officials had no choice but to disqualify her.

“The fault for [the] plaintiff’s failure does not lie with the secretary [of state],” she said.

Attorney Mark Herron, who represented Richardson in the case, pointed out that state law used to give candidates who bounced a check 48 hours to write a new check. But lawmakers removed that language in 2011.

Francis, the judge, said Herron’s argument was key to his decision.

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