In what could be a first in Florida, a judge has decertified Democrat Ryan Torrens as a candidate for state Attorney General, saying his testimony was “not credible” and that he “clearly acted contrary to the law, knowingly” when he qualified to run.
Friday’s ruling by Circuit Judge Karen Gievers of Tallahassee means—barring appellate action otherwise—Sean Shaw becomes the Democratic contender to face one of two Republicans, Ashley Moody or Frank White, in November’s general election.
Gievers’ decision came after a Wednesday bench trial in a challenge filed by Shaw, now a state representative and formerly the statewide Insurance Consumer Advocate under CFO Alex Sink, and only four days before the primary election.
Torrens will still be on printed primary ballots, but the judge ordered Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the state’s chief elections officer, to “promptly notify all 67 of Florida’s supervisors of elections that Mr. Torrens has been decertified … and may not be (elected) regardless of what the vote totals are on Tuesday, Aug. 28.”
The judge also dismissed Torrens’ counterclaim for libel against Shaw. Tallahassee-based legal legends Sandy D’Alemberte and Barry Richard said, as far as they were aware, this is likely the first time a candidate for statewide office in Florida has been disqualified before an election.
Torrens – a George Washington University Law School graduate admitted to practice law in Florida in 2011 – referred a request for comment to his lawyer, Jared McCabe of Tampa. He said only that Torrens, a Tampa-based consumer affairs attorney, planned to appeal to the 1st District Court of Appeal.
In a statement, Shaw—also a Tampa attorney—said he’ll “be a fighter for Floridians every day as Attorney General, and today’s court ruling is a validation of that fact.
“It is now time for Democrats to unite to take back Florida this fall,” he added. “We currently have two candidates in the Republican Attorney General Primary, fighting over who can stand closer to President Trump, when it seems those closest to him are being shown to be corrupt and criminal.
“Should either of those candidates become this state’s next Attorney General, you can be assured that they will roll back Roe v. Wade, act as a rubber stamp for the gun lobby, and do the bidding of the most corrupt presidential administration in U.S. history. This state and this country can’t afford more of the same. It’s time to unite as a party and make history in November.”
Shaw’s complaint said his opponent qualified to run only by way of improperly transferring money into his campaign account. That was to have enough money to cut a check for the $7,738 qualifying fee.
At issue was a $4,000 check written June 18 out of a Washington, D.C. credit union account controlled by both Torrens and his wife, Francesca Yabraian, and deposited into the campaign coffers. Torrens’ campaign treasurer soon flagged the deposit as over the $3,000 contribution limit for statewide Cabinet-level offices allowed under law.
On the witness stand, Torrens testified he had signed the check with his wife’s name – with her OK, he said – and not his own name “because I was in a great hurry.”
Shaw’s attorney, Natalie Kato, suggested that Torrens had dithered while trying to figure out what to do when it was clear there was a problem. Gievers agreed, despite Torrens’ argument that it was ultimately a self-loan from a “joint account” to his campaign, which state law doesn’t limit.
“The undisputed evidence shows that at the time Torrens (qualified on June 21, he) knew the campaign account probably contained insufficient legal contribution amounts to cover the qualifying fee.”
And “Torrens knew his campaign was always short of money, (that) it was a grassroots campaign,” she added in her 22-page ruling.
“Thus, this case involves a candidate who chose to deposit an improper contribution on Monday of qualifying week, acknowledged on Tuesday … that he knew a refund would have to be provided, intentionally chose not to issue the refund, and knowingly used the illegal funds to pay the qualifying fee on Thursday.”
Gievers wrote that Torrens, “as an attorney, as a candidate for public office, as an applicant for public financing to help with his campaign, and as a candidate to serve as the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the state, … clearly acted contrary to the law, knowingly.”
“Mr. Torrens could have done things correctly,” Gievers wrote. “He clearly and convincingly chose not to, and he must be deemed removed from the ballot.”
State campaign finance records show that Torrens received $88,693 in public matching funds on Aug. 10 to help fund his bid. It’s not clear whether Torrens is now obligated to repay that money to the state.