A Monroe County judge on Wednesday will hear testimony on what exactly took place behind an election fumble and who's to blame.
Whether Mark Rossi's name can appear on the Aug. 28 ballot among the candidates running for Key West mayor is on the line.
At issue: Rossi didn't pay the required $225 fee by the legal deadline, at noon Friday. But the county's top election official, Joyce Griffin, says it may be her fault since her website already had put "qualified" beside Rossi's name.
She thinks she may have misled Rossi into thinking he had already paid as of June 18.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Rossi, a former city commissioner, owns a complex of bars on Duval Street.
No one disputes that the fee wasn't paid on time. Rossi's campaign treasurer Barry Gibson, an elections veteran and former city commissioner, paid it later Friday.
Rossi is currently out of the country. His attorney Christopher Deem on Monday said this case is largely a legal matter.
"We believe this should be a relatively short evidentiary hearing," Deem said.
A Miami Gardens case from 2016 questioned the fairness of the fee deadline rule and the Florida Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional because it "erects a barrier that is an unnecessary restraint on one's right to seek elective office."
As a result, the prior version of the law was revived. That version gives a candidate 48 hours after the close of qualifying to "cure a defect" with a filing fee.
But in that case, a candidate's check had been returned due to an error by the bank.
"That candidate was blameless," candidate Sloan Bashinsky told Judge Timothy Koenig during a brief hearing Monday at the Monroe County Courthouse. "The question we have is, is Mr. Rossi blameless? I contend that he was not. He was negligent and his campaign manager was negligent."
Gibson knows the rules well, Bashinsky said, having run himself for Monroe County Supervisor of Elections, the position held by Griffin.
Bashinsky was the only candidate present who said Rossi should be in court so he can be questioned about the matter.
All the candidates agreed the case needs resolution soon. Griffin is supposed to have the ballots printed by the end of this week and the deadline to mail out absentee ballots to overseas voters, such as military members, is July 15.
Five of the seven candidates who legally qualified by the deadline attended Monday’s hearing and were allowed to make statements.
"This is an emergency that needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible," said candidate Randy Becker.
Teri Johnston declined to make a statement and Margaret Romero merely reminded the court that other candidates stuck to the rules.
George Bellenger told Koenig he would respect the court’s ruling and after the hearing told a reporter he had no position on the matter.
Griffin asked the county attorney, Bob Shillinger, to file a lawsuit in order to get a judge’s ruling. She said she did it so none of the other candidates would have to do it. Shillinger filed it Sunday.
Shillinger said the county doesn’t have a position on whether Rossi is ballot-worthy. The county is in court because Griffin is unclear on which law to apply in this case, he said.