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Appeals court rejects election challenge over residency

A state appeals court Wednesday rejected a lawsuit aimed at ousting a Miami city commissioner who was accused of failing to meet a residency requirement.

A three-judge panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal upheld a circuit judge’s ruling in favor of Commissioner Joe Carollo.

The lawsuit was filed after AlfonsoAlfieLeon lost a runoff election to Carollo in November and alleged that Carollo had violated part of the city charter that requires candidates to live in their districts at least one year before qualifying to run. Leon sought to overturn the outcome of the election, arguing that Carollo was ineligible to serve.

A circuit judge dismissed the lawsuit, finding that it was an “unauthorized and improper post-election challenge” under state law, according to Wednesday’s appeals-court ruling.

The appeals court, in a 14-page opinion, said courts generally do not have the power to decide election contests after candidates have been elected.

It said, however, that state law provides a “narrow exception” when candidates are ineligible for office.

But the appeals court said the one-year residency requirement in Miami’s city charter applied to candidates qualifying to run for office, not to holding office. As a result, it said the circuit judge properly dismissed the post-election challenge.

“Leon responds that if we read the … residency requirement as a qualification to run for office, rather than an eligibility requirement to hold office, there would be no eligibility requirements for city commissioners. We disagree,” said Wednesday’s opinion, written by appeals-court Judge Robert Luck and joined by Chief Judge Leslie Rothenberg and Judge Edwin Scales. “We read other parts of the city charter to impose eligibility requirements on mayors, city commissioners and other officeholders. And the Florida Constitution imposes eligibility requirements on all officeholders in the state.”

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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