Judge Laurel Lee, wife of Florida State Sen. Tom Lee, has been asked to recuse herself in the lawsuit seeking to overturn the Hillsborough transportation sales tax voters approved last month.
Sen. Lee has been a vocal critic of the sales tax, giving his wife an apparent conflict of interest in the case.
A defendant in the lawsuit filed a motion to disqualify the assigned judge late Monday afternoon.
The documents are still being redacted by Hillsborough County Clerk of Court staff so further details are unavailable at this time.
The motion likely references Sen. Lee’s connections to the opposition group No Tax For Tracks. He allowed his likeness and personal quotes to be used in campaign mailers opposing the tax. Lee’s name was also used in text messages urging voters to oppose the tax.
Further, Lee’s senatorial campaign received several contributions from Martin Garcia and his business over the past several years. Garcia is one of two attorneys representing Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White who filed the lawsuit.
The suit alleges the new county charter created to raise the tax is in violation of state statute, which supersedes county charter. White argues the conflict leaves him uncertain as to his duties to follow state law in violation of county charter, or county charter in violation of state law.
At issue is the citizen-led oversight committee established under the charter that allows an unelected group of Hillsborough residents to have veto power over elected boards on spending using the transportation tax revenue.
Under the charter, that oversight committee is tasked with reviewing project plans to ensure they are consistent with terms of the charter. The referendum authors, a group of private Hillsborough Citizens who gathered more than 70,000 petitions to get the measure on the November ballot, said the oversight committee’s intent is to ensure the tax does not turn into a slush fund for elected officials’ pet projects.
In an interview, Lee acknowledged that he was opposed to the tax but was unaware of any financial contributions or expenditures that could further pose a conflict of interest for his wife.
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