(EXCITING UPDATE BELOW) On the eve of the Tuesday primary election, a state appeals court has put Ryan Torrens back into the race for state attorney general, at least for now.
The First District Court of Appeal has temporarily halted enforcement of a lower court decision made late last week decertifying Torrens as a candidate in the Democratic primary.
However, lawyers and spokesmen for both sides said the legal fight over Torrens' status could continue until after the election. If that happens, it won't be known until after the voting is over whether the votes for Torrens will count.
Torrens, a Tampa lawyer who specializes in representing homeowners in foreclosure cases, is competing with state Rep. Sean Shaw of Tampa for the nomination.
Shaw filed a lawsuit seeking to have Torrens removed from the ballot, alleging that at the time Torrens paid his $7,738 qualifying fee, his campaign didn't have enough money to cover it. Torrens was able to qualify only because he got a contribution from his wife that exceeded the $3,000 campaign contribution limit, and therefore didn't qualify legally, Shaw alleged.
Torrens responded that even though the check for the $4,000 contribution was signed by his wife, it was drawn on a joint account to which they both contributed money, and therefore was his money. There is no limit on a candidate's contribution to his own campaign.
In her Aug. 24 decision, Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers wrote that Torrens "knowingly used … illegal funds" to qualify and his "relevant actions were intentional, and wrong," and he shouldn't be on the ballot.
Ballots for the primary have already been printed, and many voters have already voted at early voting locations or by absentee ballot.
If Gievers' ruling had remained in force, votes for Torrens wouldn't have been counted, and notices would have put in polling places saying so, said Torrens campaign manager Alex Quintana.
In its order, the 1st DCA stayed enforcement of Gievers' ruling and promised to set a schedule for both sides to file briefs for "expedited review" of the case, but didn't say when briefs were to be filed or when or whether arguments would be heard.
"We're proceeding as we have been with the assumption that we're going to be the nominee," said Shaw spokesman Michael Hopkins.
Following the decision, Torrens held a news conference outside his Tampa office in which he read a 4½ minute statement, then quickly strode back inside and refused to take any questions from a handful of reporters.
In the statement, he said the Gievers decision "disenfranchised tens of thousands of early voters" and should be reversed.
He said Shaw's lawsuit unfairly tarnished his campaign.
"All Floridians need to rethink in the name of fairness what has occurred in the crucial final weekend" of the race, he said. "The court's negative words had the effect of spreading a very negative view of my campaign throughout the state. Just by filing his last-minute lawsuit … my opponent accomplished a negative politics messaging goal that he could not have achieved just by campaigning before the voters."
Asked why Torrens wouldn't take questions, his campaign manager, Alex Quintana, said, "We've got a busy rest of the day."
Time/Herald Tallahassee Bureau staff writer Lawrence Mower contributed to this story.