West Miami-Dade

Appeals court halts distribution of absentee ballots in Sweetwater

Orlando López, talking to the media after the civil court hearing on Monday, April 20.
Orlando López, talking to the media after the civil court hearing on Monday, April 20. el Nuevo Herald

A court of appeals has ordered a delay in the distribution of absentee ballots for the May 12 elections in Sweetwater until the court makes a decision on Mayor José M. Díaz’s candidacy.

The order by the Third District Court of Appeals last week came a day after a Miami-Dade County civil court judge disqualified Díaz from the election, because he did not present a formal resignation from the position he was last elected for — commissioner — before qualifying as a mayoral candidate.

The appeal hearing is scheduled for April 28.

“The Department of Elections received a notification from the court ... instructing the department to not send the absentee ballots until the official order,” Carolina López, spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Department of Elections, said in a statement sent Tuesday.

The petition to disqualify Díaz was presented by Commissioner Orlando López, who is also running for mayor. Both campaigns saw the court’s order as a good thing.

“We hoped this would happen because it’s a normal part of the process in these types of cases,” said José “Pepe” Herrera, López’s attorney. “This does not reflect a decision on the merits of the case. What the court did is preserve the integrity of the elections process, in protecting both parties.”

Meanwhile Steven Ferreiro, Díaz’s campaign manager, said the order was a small victory for the mayor.

“This allows for more time to clear up the case and voters can vote for José [Díaz],” Ferreiro said.

On Monday, civil court Judge Barbara Areces ruled Díaz should have resigned from his last elected post before March 7, meaning his seat in the city commission. Díaz left his position as commissioner in the summer of 2013 when he was appointed as mayor after ex-mayor Manuel “Manny” Maroño was arrested on corruption charges.

But attorney Juan Carlos Planas, who represents Díaz, argued that Díaz automatically resigned his post as commissioner when he was appointed mayor. He added that the vacant commission seat has already been filled, so Díaz was not in charge of two positions at once.

The city charter states that the president of the commission who filled the vacancy of the mayor is entitled to return to his former commission seat upon the expiration of the term of mayor, which is on May 12. The commission term Díaz was originally elected for expires in 2017.

Follow Brenda Medina on Twitter @BrendaMedinar.