Ryan Torrens appeals decision kicking him off primary ballot

Ryan Torrens

Tampa attorney Ryan Torrens on Saturday said he filed a notice of appeal, requesting a “halt (of) the implementation of a lower court judge’s 11th hour ruling” decertifying him as a Democratic candidate for Attorney General.

The day before, Circuit Judge Karen Gievers of Tallahassee ordered him out of the race, saying he “clearly acted contrary to the law” when he qualified in June to run.

That was after a hearing this Wednesday in which Gievers determined Torrens’ testimony was “not credible.” The primary election is Tuesday.

In a statement, Torrens said the judge removed him based on a “contribution law technicality,” and said she was “disenfranchising the tens of thousands of citizens who have already voted for his campaign,” apparently referring to estimates of his share of vote-by-mail ballots and early votes.

As it stands now, Tampa state Rep. Sean Shaw is the lone Democratic contender. He’ll face one of two Republicans, Ashley Moody or Frank White, in November’s general election.

Shaw himself filed the complaint that led to Torrens’ ouster, claiming he qualified to run only by way of improperly transferring money into his campaign account. That was to have enough money for Torrens to cut a check for the $7,738 qualifying fee.

But Torrens said Gievers “ignored” evidence “that the funds in question were indeed his own,” in a joint account belonging to him and wife Francesca Yabraian. He called it a self-loan, which campaign finance law does not limit, unlike other contributions.

But he had admitted in court he signed the check with his wife’s name – with her OK – because his name wasn’t printed on the checks for that account. The law imputes money to come from the person signing off; in this case, technically Yabraian.

“Today I’m kicking myself for that oversight, but that doesn’t change the essential bottom line that this was always my money, going to my campaign account in accordance with the law,” he said.

“No court should ever intervene in the exercise of our democracy, especially at the last minute,” he added.

In her decision, Gievers said the 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 added Torrens “clearly acted contrary to the law, knowingly,” saying he “could have done things correctly. He clearly and convincingly chose not to, and he must be deemed removed from the ballot.”

Torrens said his “legal team is working tirelessly this weekend, taking this matter to the appeals court in order to allow the voters to decide who they want for attorney general.

“Our political system has become corrupted by big corporate interests and their establishment candidates, and I am proud to be the candidate in this race with the nerve to take on those powerful interests.”

Torrens did not address the $88,693 in public matching funds he’s received, and whether he’s obligated to repay that money to the state should he lose his appeal.

As of Friday, Shaw had raised a total of $985,637 and had $455,946 in cash-on-hand; Torrens’ posted $221,830 all told, and had $30,271 left.

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at [email protected]


2 comments

  • Jeffrey Marc Siskind

    August 25, 2018 at 8:00 pm

    What am I missing here? If this campaign deposit was from a bank account containing funds which were owned jointly and severally by Ryan and his wife, wasn’t this just a matter of an improvident contribution report entry which can be corrected by the Candidate amending its report? If so, this appears to have been a mere ministerial error which ought not deny Florida voters their right to choose from the slate of qualified candidates. Although campaign reporting requirements are exacting, I don’t believe that the legislature intended that Florida’s campaign reporting laws be interpreted to deny voters their freedom of choice over errors and/or omissions which are capable of being resolved by less intrusive means.

    • J

      August 28, 2018 at 9:49 am

      What you are missing is that Ryan Torrens himself has very very little money. I received bounced checks while I worked for him and know personally of his finances. His wife, Franchesca, has plenty of money and in my opinion she likely put him as joint on the account to show he “had assets” to use as collateral for something. The vast majority of the money in that account likely came from her premarital earnings or from gifts from her parents who do have plenty of money and have been known to give to her in the past. On it’s face it seems like a technicality, but if you know the parties involved and have worked for him in the past you understand the reason only her name is on the checks is because it’s her money that she only lets him use as a last resort to bail himself out of messes like this. If you know him, you know exactly what messes I’m referring to.

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