Hillsborough Circuit Judge Steven Scott Stephens, who lost his bid for reelection in August, asked Florida’s highest court Monday to stop the state from certifying the election results.
In a petition with the Florida Supreme Court, Stephens argues that the state constitution requires judicial elections to be decided in the general election. But state law, he says, disobeys that rule, allowing most judicial races to be determined in the primary.
He says the law is unconstitutional and wants to stop the Secretary of State from certifying the results of his race.
“I think there’s a fairly serious constitutional problem, and sooner or later someone is going to bring it up,” Stephens told the Tampa Bay Times. “I tried to bring it up in the least disruptive way possible.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the Supreme Court kicked the case to the circuit court in Tampa, where Stephens remains a judge.
But his fellow judges in the 13th Judicial Circuit would all have to recuse themselves from hearing the case. The chief judge in Hillsborough County will ask the Supreme Court to transfer the case to a different circuit, a court spokesman said.
Stephens, who teaches constitutional law at Stetson University College of Law, told the Times he is not vying to remain in office, but wants to establish that the election process was not constitutional. He remains a judge until January.
He’s not asking to invalidate the results of any other race. But if a court agrees with him, it’s unclear whether that would invite challenges to the results of other judicial races.
“I’m on the way out either way,” Stephens said.
His petition notes, though, that if the court grants his request, he would not be barred from serving as a senior judge, a position reserved for retired judges who get called to serve temporary duty.
Stephens was appointed to the Hillsborough circuit bench in 2005 by former Gov. Jeb Bush. He previously was reelected to his seat without opposition, but this year drew a challenge from Tampa lawyer Wendy DePaul.
DePaul launched a vigorous campaign, and ultimately took about 52 percent of the vote to defeat Stephens, who drew about 47 percent.
DePaul could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
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