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District 2's drama, from ballot box to courtroom

Nancy Robinson, 61, Republican

The former four-term County Commissioner sued on Nov. 14, after losing the election by 1,444 votes. She claims Rocco wasn't qualified to be on the ballot because she didn't live in District 2 on Election Day. Robinson says the seat is still hers.

Attorney: Robert Morris Jr. with Underwood, Eppley & Morris of Brooksville.

INTERVENOR

Janey Baldwin, political gadfly and erstwhile commission candidate, joined the case in support of Robinson. She claims that if Rocco is allowed to take office, and later found ineligible, it will do irreparable harm to people with business before the County Commission.

Attorney: Joe Mason with McGee & Mason in Brooksville.

OTHER PARTIES

The suit also names Supervisor of Elections Annie D. Williams. No one alleges that she did anything wrong. She's in it because Robinson's side didn't want Williams' office to issue Rocco an official certificate naming her the commissioner. It's purely a formality, her attorney said.

Attorney: Stephen Grimes, former justice of the Florida Supreme Court, with Holland & Knight in Tallahassee.

Rose Rocco, 65, Democrat

Rocco said she moved there before the election results were made official. That satisfies state Supreme Court case law, which says she has to live in the district "at the time of election." Rocco also says her disqualification doesn't give Robinson the seat, but triggers a special election.

Attorney: Ronald Meyer, who defeated Gov. Jeb Bush's school vouchers, from Meyer & Brooks in Tallahassee; Jason Melton of the Law Offices of Sabato DeVito in Spring Hill.

INTERVENORS

Harvey Martin, Linda Prescott, Mary Ann Stanley, Joanne Murray and Eugene Kelly - one voter from each County Commission district - say they voted for Rocco and will be disenfranchised if Rocco isn't allowed to take office.

Attorney: Patricia Barwick of Spring Hill.

OTHER PARTIES

The County Canvassing Board is also named as a defendant, but it is largely a formality. The three-member board is responsible for counting the votes and certifying the results. Members are Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams, Commissioner Chris Kingsley and Judge Don Scaglione.

Attorney: Assistant County Attorney Jon Jouben.

What happened

The legion of lawyers have filed a bewildering flurry of motions and countermotions, and the court file grows thicker.

It started Nov. 14. A few hours after county staffers held a going away party, former four-term Commissioner Hannah "Nancy" Robinson filed suit against Rose Rocco, who beat her in the District 2 race by 1,444 votes despite being outspent 8 to 1.

Intervenor Janey Baldwin quickly joined the case in support of Robinson, represented by the legally creative and notoriously long-winded Joe Mason. Mason moved to put a temporary halt to Rocco's swearing-in ceremony until the residency issue could be sorted out.

Judge John Booth granted Mason's motion Nov. 20, and the seat remains vacant, although Rocco continues to show up in the audience of County Commission meetings and introduce herself as Commissioner-elect.

Rocco has her intervenors as well, a voter from each of the five County Commission districts, who say they'll be disenfranchised if Rocco can't take office.

Mason wants the injunction made permanent, along with a temporary order of quo warranto, which basically says Rocco can't have the seat.

Rocco's attorneys have appealed that injunction to the Fifth District Court of Appeals. They've asked the appeals court to expedite the hearings. They've also asked Booth to hold off on any other rulings until the appeals court makes a decision. While an appeal is pending, Booth can't issue a final ruling.

Assistant County Attorney Jon Jouben, representing the Canvassing Board, wants the case heard by the Florida Supreme Court since it's likely to end up there anyway. Also, Gov. Jeb Bush is considering declaring the seat vacant and appointing someone else.

On Monday at 10 a.m., Booth has scheduled a hearing on the pending motions. The appeals court denied a last-minute move by Rocco's camp to stay the proceedings pending its appeal. Booth could withdraw the temporary injunction, making the appeal moot, and go ahead and rule on the central issue: who is qualified to take the seat.

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