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Second lawsuit filed to knock Democrat off Hillsborough commission ballot

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Republicans on Friday filed a lawsuit aimed at getting Democrat Linda Saul-Sena removed from a County Commission race.

Benton R. Murphey, a Republican who lives in Tampa, is the plaintiff in the suit that names Saul-Sena and Supervisor of Elections Earl Lennard as defendants.

Saul-Sena is running for the countywide District 5 seat.

The complaint says that because Saul-Sena missed a deadline for filing paperwork with the Supervisor of Elections indicating she planned to resign her Tampa City Council post to run for the commission, she should not appear on the ticket. Lennard qualified her for the ballot on June 18.

"We're asking the court to declare that she is not a qualified candidate because she did not follow the laws as set out in Florida statutes. And we're asking that her name be taken off the ballot," said Terri Gaffney, an attorney for Murphey. "Our plaintiff really wants to protect the integrity of the election process, and we want the candidates to follow the rules."

State law requires elected officials to resign to run for another office if the terms of their current position and the one they are seeking overlap. The resignations, which can take effect on the date they would step into the new office — in this case mid November — can't be revoked even if the candidate loses the election. The deadline for filing the resign-to-run papers this year was June 4.

Saul-Sena didn't file her resignation letter until June 15.

After becoming aware of the missed deadline, Saul-Sena resigned from the council on June 24, effective immediately, hoping that would keep her on the ballot.

But Republicans pledged to sue. They filed a similar lawsuit on Thursday in hopes of getting Democrat John Dingfelder out of the race for the District 1 County Commission seat representing parts of Tampa and southeast Hillsborough. He also missed the deadline for filing his resign-to-run papers.

A spokesman for Lennard said he would not comment on a pending lawsuit.

In a statement, Saul-Sena described the lawsuit as partisan politics, saying it is being "supported and orchestrated" by County Commissioner Ken Hagan, her Republican opponent in the November election.

"My opponent will do anything he can to not have to deal with the real issues in our community such as the high countywide unemployment rate, uncontrolled growth and fiscal irresponsibility all that have occurred under his watch," she said.

"Hopefully, Mr. Hagan has the courage to denounce this ugly action and insist on letting the voters decide who will lead them on the County Commission."

Hagan could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Both suits question whether the local Democratic Party has the right to replace Saul-Sena and Dingfelder on the ballot if they are removed. State law allows a party left with no nominee because a candidate is removed from the ticket to select a replacement. But the GOP argues that the Democrats never really had a candidate because elections officials should not have put Dingfelder and Saul-Sena on the ballot in the first place.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Second lawsuit filed to knock Democrat off Hillsborough commission ballot 07/09/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 10, 2010 12:05am]
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