Lawsuit court date could create ballot problem

Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning is pushing for a quick decision from the court.

Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning is pushing for a quick decision from the court.

To Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning, the court date for booting a candidate from Pasco County's ballot pinches election preparation in his old turf.

His successor as Pasco supervisor of elections, Brian Corley, even said he would "get on my knees and beg" for action sooner than a July 17 court hearing.

Overseas ballots, including ones to military members in Afghanistan and Iraq, must be mailed by July 22. Absentee ballots that could have started hitting the mail Wednesday are on ice after Pasco Democrats filed a lawsuit Monday.

"The annoying thing about that (lawsuit) is that it's just holding up the ballot," said Browning, the state's top elections official. "And apparently the judge set the hearing date for July 17. …Why, I do not understand."

But the woman who schedules hearings for Circuit Judge W. Lowell Bray, his wife and judicial assistant, Mary Bray, said the urgency could have been noted earlier — such as when the hearing date was requested by the law firm representing Corley.

No one took issue when the July 17 date was chosen Tuesday.

"They didn't ask me for an expedited hearing," Bray said Wednesday. "If they ask me, I'll give them a hearing tomorrow."

Pasco Democrats sued Monday to eliminate write-in candidate John M. Taylor in the east Pasco District 1 race for County Commission. Commissioner Ted Schrader faces John Nicolette in the Aug. 26 Republican primary.

Taylor's presence — and the absence of any Democrat running — means voting is limited to only Republicans, even though Taylor's name will never be on the ballot. That means 170,000 other voters essentially won't have a say on the next commissioner.

But Democrats allege Taylor lacks residency in the district.

The case landed randomly with Bray, one of two judges for civil cases.

But Bray has a jury trial all of next week, and July 14 and 15 were booked. So Mary Bray said she offered July 16 and 17.

However, Corley's attorney Daniel Dwyer said his paralegal asked for a hearing "as soon as possible."

But even dates this week had an issue. Such an early hearing would be unusual because defendants usually have 20 days to file a response. So a procedural hearing today over expediting the case was added Wednesday afternoon.

"Obviously, if he rules from the bench on the 17th — which I doubt he will but I will hopefully encourage him to — then they will be very, very, very busy that weekend getting their absentees out," Browning said.

If Democrats win, Corley has to rework the ballot design to reflect a primary open to all voters, plus print new ballots. He estimated the cost at $5,000 to $6,000.

"We just want a direction," Corley said.

Times capital bureau chief Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.

Lawsuit court date could create ballot problem 07/02/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 9, 2008 3:21pm]

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