Update: The court on Friday (Aug. 26) accepted jurisdiction and declined to hear oral argument, meaning it will decide the case based on the written briefs.
A Miami-based appeals court is asking the state Supreme Court to opine on how political candidates can qualify to run.
The 3rd District Court of Appeal Wednesday unanimously affirmed a lower-court decision keeping a candidate for Miami Gardens mayor off the Aug. 30 municipal ballot.
But the three-judge panel did so holding its collective noses: “We recognize the statute produces a harsh result in this case.”
Candidate James Wright, a former Opa-locka police chief, was the victim of a mistake beyond his control, the court explained.
Wright’s $620 check to the city clerk to pay his qualifying fee was kicked back by Wells Fargo Bank. The reason: “Unable to locate account.” He was then disqualified.
But Wright had used a starter check from his brand-new campaign account, which had “ample funds,” and Wells Fargo wrongly rejected paying the check.
On June 30, Wright sued, but a trial judge later ruled against him, citing the plain language of state election law.
“If a candidate’s check is returned by the bank for any reason, the filing officer shall immediately notify the candidate and the candidate shall have until the end of qualifying to pay the fee with a cashier’s check purchased from funds of the campaign account,” it says.
But Wright wasn’t told about the check being returned unpaid until after qualifying had ended, and “the city clerk then refused Wright’s tender of a cashier’s check,” the opinion said.
Despite their “distaste” for their own decision, the judges said the “statute’s use of the term ‘returned by the bank for any reason’ renders irrelevant any consideration of whether the candidate bore responsibility for the check being returned.”
They then asked the Supreme Court to consider a “question of great public importance”:
“Does (state law) require a candidate’s disqualification when the candidate’s qualifying fee check is returned by the bank after the expiration of the qualifying period due to a banking error over which the candidate has no control?”
Wednesday’s opinion was by Chief Judge Richard J. Suarez and Judges Edwin A. Scales III and Ivan F. Fernandez.