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Crist won't help election suit

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist declined Thursday to get involved in a lawsuit brought by a defeated Hernando County Commissioner trying to keep the seat she held for 14 years.

Nancy Robinson filed suit Tuesday, but wanted Crist to bring a case on the state's behalf.

"After reviewing your letter and other attached documents, I must decline to bring the requested action on behalf of your client," the governor-elect wrote to Robinson's attorney. "This response should not be construed to constitute a legal opinion on the merits of the matter."

That doesn't derail Robinson's own lawsuit. The four-term District 2 commissioner claims election-winner Rose Rocco can't take office because she didn't live in the district on Election Day.

After a day of legal maneuvering, it remained unclear where the case will go next. Robinson asked for an emergency hearing, Circuit Judge Richard Tombrink Jr. recused himself, and the case will be reassigned.

A hearing hadn't been scheduled as of Thursday evening.

The county Canvassing Board is to meet at 4 p.m. today to certify the vote count. Barring judicial intervention, the board will certify the count and declare Rocco the winner based on her 1,456-vote lead, explained Kent Weissinger, senior assistant county attorney.

Rocco is scheduled to take the oath of office Tuesday, unless a judge intervenes, said Jason Melton, Rocco's attorney.

That doesn't prevent a judge from ruling against Rocco later, and removing her from office, said Robert Morris Jr., Robinson's attorney.

The unofficial vote shows Rocco with 28,336 votes, or 51.3 percent. Robinson trails with 48.7 percent, or 26,880 votes.

Tombrink recused himself from the case to avoid any appearance of impropriety. He knows Robinson and works with Judge Don Scaglione, who is also a defendant in the case as chairman of the county Canvassing Board, Morris said.

It was the third time Rocco had run for office, and the second time against Robinson, to whom she lost in 2002. The following year, the Commission redrew district lines, edging Rocco out of the Spring Hill district by one block.

After her Election Day win, Rocco sought advice from County Attorney Garth Coller. On Nov. 8, the county attorney's office sent a fax that said, "Per Garth, to be most conservative, establish residency prior to date election is certified but no later than November 21, 2006."

"At no time prior to the election did any one from the county attorney's office advise either candidate on any aspect of the election," said Assistant County Attorney Jon Jouben.

Last week, Rocco said she had a new house in the district. On Wednesday, Rocco changed her voter's registration to reflect the new address, according to the Supervisor of Elections office.

Asjylyn Loder can be reached at aloder@sptimes.com or (352)754-6127

Fast facts

Blow-by-blow

Thursday's developments in Robinson vs. Rocco case:

- Circuit Judge Richard Tombrink recused himself from the case.

- Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist declined Nancy Robinson's request to bring the case against Rocco on behalf of the state.

- Robinson requested an immediate hearing, but it hadn't been scheduled as of Thursday evening.

Vote totals

Unofficially . . .

Rose Rocco with 28,336 votes, or 51.3 percent.

Nancy Robinson trails with 48.7 percent, or 26,880 votes.

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