Florida Green Party officials have won a legal battle in Pasco County that they believe could expose a 2008 election conspiracy and prompt a formal state investigation.
In a ruling believed to be the first of its kind in Florida, a judge granted the party's request to subpoena financial records and question a former candidate to determine whether she fraudulently entered a state legislative race.
"I'm very, very encouraged that we are going to get closer to finding out the truth," said Jayne King, co-chairwoman of the state Green Party.
The dispute concerns the candidacy of Sarah Roman, who changed her party affiliation to enter the contested race for Hernando County's House District 44 as a Green Party candidate.
The 22-year-old from Port Richey is one of the so-called Florida Five — a group of five mysterious Green Party candidates, previously unknown to party officials, who quietly entered five strategic legislative races across the state last year.
King alleged in court papers that Roman was recruited "for the purpose of diverting votes … solely as a means for manipulating the election process."
The Green Party specifically targeted Roman because she listed a net worth of $5,200 but managed to loan herself $2,000 to pay the filing fee.
Skeptics believe someone else paid the fee and it wasn't reported as a campaign contribution as required.
Roman's attorney, Jeff Lucas, said even with the court's order, the Green Party's "fishing expedition" would lead nowhere. He also suggested the ruling would encourage frivolous complaints, which the Legislature moved to curtail a couple of years ago.
The Feb. 23 ruling by Pasco Circuit Judge Stanley Mills allows the Green Party to "seek evidence which may justify the (party) in filing a sworn Election Commission complaint."
At the moment, the party doesn't have enough evidence to file a formal complaint with the state Division of Elections. State law requires a sworn statement based on personal knowledge, not hearsay.
Tallahassee attorney Ron Meyer, who is representing the Green Party, wants Roman to produce bank records showing where she received the money for the filing fee and testify under oath about whether someone asked her to run for office. He also suggested he would request records from the other questionable Green Party candidates, including one from Hillsborough County.
Roman's attorney dismissed any insinuation of a conspiracy theory. He also asserted that Roman's candidacy didn't affect the outcome of the race. Republican incumbent Robert Schenck won the November election, topping Democrat Jason Melton by more than 10,000 ballots. Roman drew 4,800 votes.
In his ruling, Mills said he struck a balance between the requirement for a sworn complaint and the potential for a "chilling effect on the filing of such complaints" if individuals can't get the necessary evidence.
John Frank can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6114.