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Suspended elections chief fights for job

Published Jan. 3, 2004|Updated Aug. 27, 2005

Lawyers for Miriam Oliphant have asked Florida's attorney general to go to court on her behalf and challenge Gov. Jeb Bush's decision to suspend her as Broward County elections supervisor.

The long-shot move seeks to have Attorney General Charlie Crist accuse the governor of overstepping his authority and violating Oliphant's constitutional rights.

Oliphant wants Crist to decide within 10 days whether he will take up her cause, but she plans to press ahead with her legal challenge on her own if he refuses.

Oliphant's lead lawyer, John Contini, argues that Bush acted improperly because Oliphant was suspended indefinitely without pay and has not been guaranteed a date when the state Senate would consider whether to reinstate her or remove her permanently.

In his letter to Crist, Contini compares Bush's actions to that of a banana republic dictator and urges him to fight for Oliphant and the voters who elected her in 2000.

"This is a case where justice delayed is justice denied," Contini said.

Crist said late Friday his office was reviewing the request and would decide within a week what to do.

Bush suspended Oliphant on Nov. 20, accusing her of incompetence and mismanagement and saying he had no faith she could properly run this year's elections. During her tumultuous three years in office, polls had opened late and closed early, hundreds of absentee ballots went uncounted, voter registration rolls were never updated and veteran election office workers were cast aside in favor of friends and political associates.

Under state law, Senate leaders have until late February to decide how to handle Oliphant's case. But the law sets no time frame on when _ or even if _ Oliphant's fate would be voted on before her term in office expires at the end of this year.

The letter to Crist is the first move by Oliphant's new legal team to try to win her job back.

State political observers said they doubt Crist will take up Oliphant's cause.

"The governor has been extremely meticulous and careful in delineating his reasons, and there has been no groundswell of public support on her behalf," said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida.