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Judge will rule Tampa Bay congressional candidate Jerry Torres ineligible

But attorneys for Torres have already filed a stay of the ruling.
Jerry Torres
Jerry Torres [ Courtesy of Jerry Torres ]
Published Jul. 29

A Tallahassee judge said Friday he will rule that Republican Jerry Torres is ineligible for the August primary race for Tampa Bay’s 14th Congressional District seat.

But attorneys for Torres said they plan to appeal and have already filed a motion to stay Circuit Judge John Cooper’s ruling, which does not go into effect until the judge signs a written order.

Democrats sued to keep Torres off the ballot, claiming that his candidate oath wasn’t valid. Democrats argued that Torres’ oath couldn’t be valid because he was in Africa at the time.

In court documents and at Thursday’s hearing, Torres acknowledged he was in Africa when two versions of his candidate oath were notarized and filed, even though those oaths, notarized in Mississippi, say he was physically present when signing.

Ballots with Torres’ name on them have already been sent out and Tampa Bay voters have already begun returning ballots. Once the judge’s order disqualifying Torres is released, elections supervisors would include notices at polling locations and in future mail ballots saying that votes for Torres won’t count.

Torres, a defense contractor, has said he would be willing to spend up to $15 million of his own money to aid his candidacy.

Florida’s 14th District is currently served by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat, who is running for reelection. The district covers Tampa and parts of Hillsborough County, and now includes the eastern half of St. Petersburg.

Related: Out of Africa: Jerry Torres accuses Castor of starting lawsuit

Sean Shaw, a Democratic lawyer and former state representative, filed the lawsuit. Torres’ attorney, state Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Lithia, asked Shaw if he was doing the lawsuit with “the expectation that it will again help to ensure (Castor’s) incumbency in office.” Shaw agreed that he expected that would be one of the results of the lawsuit.

Torres was slated to face Republicans James Judge and Samar “Sam” Nashagh in the primary.

Judge, a public relations executive, had his own eligibility issues. He was initially disqualified from the ballot over a paperwork problem, but was later reinstated by a judge.

Related: Democrats question eligibility of Republican seeking Florida congressional seat

Judge on Friday quickly sent a statement saying he respected Cooper’s ruling and adding he looks forward “to taking down Kathy Castor.”

Torres and his attorneys recently accused Castor and her husband, Bill Lewis, of coordinating to initiate the lawsuit, but the judge ruled against taking their depositions.

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