A Leon County Circuit judge has ruled that Democratic attorney general candidate Ryan Torrens should be removed from Tuesday's ballot, finding that he "knowingly used … illegal funds" to qualify for the primary election.
"Candidate Torrens' relevant actions were intentional, and wrong," Judge Karen Gievers wrote in a scathing Friday afternoon decision.
Torrens' attorney, Jared J. McCabe, said they've filed a notice that they're appealing the decision. They're asking that Gievers' decision to decertify Torrens be placed on hold while it's on appeal.
The lawsuit was filed by Torrens' opponent, state Rep. Sean Shaw, D-Tampa, a heavy favorite in the attorney general race.
"I will be a fighter for Floridians every day as Attorney General and today's court ruling is a validation of that fact," Shaw said in a statement released by his campaign. "It is now time for Democrats to unite to take back Florida this fall."
The lawsuit was centered on Torrens' $7,738 qualifying fee.
With the June 22 qualifying deadline looming and his grassroots campaign short of funds, Torrens needed an additional $4,000 to pay the fee to get on the ballot.
The help came in the form of a check with his wife's name – Francesca Yabraian – and signature on it.
But there was a problem. Yabraian had already loaned the campaign more than $2,300. The limit is $3,000, meaning she was owed a refund of more than $3,300.
But Torrens did not issue a refund to his wife, instead writing the full qualifying check to the Division of Elections, even though the extra money was not legal, according to Givers' decision. (He did not refund the money until a month later.)
In court, Torrens tried to make the case that he shared the bank account with his wife, and that it was common practice to sign checks in her name. Candidates can give their own campaigns unlimited money.
But Gievers did not consider the argument credible, noting that he and his treasurer discussed the need to refund his wife before the qualifying deadline, but didn't do it.
"Mr. Torrens' selective memory at trial about the campaign account balance is not credible, nor is his testimony about Ms. Yabraian's account being a joint one," Gievers wrote.
After Shaw filed his lawsuit, Torrens counter-sued, claiming Shaw libeled him. Gievers granted Shaw's motion to dismiss that lawsuit on Friday. McCabe said he's reviewing her decision.
"Mr. Torrens could have done things correctly," Gievers concluded. "He clearly and convincingly chose not to, and he must be deemed removed from the ballot."