Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

Disqualified Miami Gardens candidate continues push to get back in the race

Former Opa-locka police chief James Wright was disqualified from the Miami Gardens mayoral race in June. A circuit judge dismissed his lawsuit, and he is appealing the decision.
Former Opa-locka police chief James Wright was disqualified from the Miami Gardens mayoral race in June. A circuit judge dismissed his lawsuit, and he is appealing the decision.

After his attempts to reenter the Miami Gardens mayoral race through a lawsuit were unsuccessful, James Wright is taking his case to another court.

The former Opa-locka police chief has appealed the Miami-Dade Circuit Court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit in which he argued that he was wrongfully disqualified from the city’s Aug. 30 mayoral election after his check for his qualifying fee didn’t clear.

His case was dismissed July 22 and he filed his appeal with the Third District Court of Appeal this week. He was also granted an expedited hearing requiring the city to respond by Tuesday.

“We made the decision to appeal the lower court’s decision because we believe our case is very strong,” Wright said.

Wright was disqualified June 20 by City Clerk Ronetta Taylor. She said in a letter, citing Florida Statute 99.061, that the check Wright used to pay his qualification fee was returned to the city because the bank couldn’t find his campaign’s account number. Taylor said the city was notified about the issue by Wells Fargo on June 16.

Because the qualifying period for candidates had ended June 2, Wright was not allowed to write a new check or pay the fee any other way.

He argues in his appeal, as he did in the initial lawsuit, that no other check written on that account had been returned before. Wright and his attorneys argue that the statute used to disqualify him is too ambiguous and that voters are entitled to consider him.

“We think it’s important to the voters, we think it’s important to the city of Miami Gardens and important for the direction the city is heading in the next four years,” Wright said.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Bronwyn Miller said in her order denying the case that even if Wright was made aware of the issue with his check after qualifying ended, that doesn’t change the state law.

“The statute does not allow for the tender of the qualifying fee after qualifying closes. Thus, Wright is foreclosed from relief based upon the clear language of the statute,” Miller wrote.

If Wright’s appeal is successful he hopes to have the mayoral race delayed until the Nov. 8 election, which is the city’s runoff election date.

Wright was Opa-locka’s top cop from 2005 until he was fired in 2008. He also unsuccessfully competed in 2004 for the County Commission seat currently held by Barbara Jordan.

The ballot for the Aug. 30 mayoral race includes the incumbent mayor, Oliver Gilbert; former council member Ulysses Harvard; and political newcomer Clara Johnson, a retired AT&T employee.

The election also includes three other council races and a city charter amendment related to development rights at New Miami Stadium, most recently known as Sun Life Stadium.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3

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