A circuit court judge overturned a Division of Elections decision and restored congressional candidate James Judge’s name to the ballot.
Judge this week sued the state shortly after the Division of Elections tossed the Tampa Republican from the race to represent Florida’s 14th Congressional District. Elections officials said Judge could not run because he signed a partisan candidate oath for state and local candidates rather than the proper paperwork for federal candidates.
The decision was among several qualification period shocks this election cycle. Judge had been the apparent front-runner for the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor in CD 14.
Leon Circuit Court Judge Angela Dempsey ruled the state’s rules were ambiguous for candidates. She issued an injunction of the Division of Elections decision and ordered Judge’s name to appear on ballots in the CD 14 GOP Primary. The decision came shortly before Pinellas and Hillsborough County election officials started the printing process for ballots.
“My faith in our judicial system is renewed and at a new high, as our courts have continued to make the right decisions over the past two weeks at both the state and federal levels,” Judge said. “I’d like to thank Judge Dempsey for her diligence and attention to this issue, along with my legal team who ensured that my wrongful and temporary disqualification was resolved quickly and efficiently.”
Of note, the injunction is not a final ruling in the case of whether Judge’s candidacy can continue.
Dempsey noted the Division did not inform Judge he had been disqualified until June 22, five days after the qualifying period ended. Judge turned in his candidate oath on June 15.
In her decision, Dempsey made clear she thinks Judge has a strong case in challenging his disqualification.
“Plaintiff has demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits,” Dempsey wrote.
Among Judge’s arguments is that the actual oath appearing on the form for state or federal candidates reads nearly identical. And while the state prints different forms for state and federal candidates, Florida law only spells out a requirement for candidates to sign an oath. Judge argues the oath he signed is “substantially similar” on either document.
Dempsey also noted that while the state administers all congressional elections in Florida, the U.S. Constitution serves as the instrument for determining candidate eligibility.
“Florida courts have repeatedly recognized that a candidate who has substantially complied with qualification requirements for an election should be placed on the ballot,” Dempsey wrote.
While Judge’s case works its way through the courts, she determined his name cannot be left off printed ballots.
Judge filed in January to challenge Castor, and through the first quarter of the year raised more than $123,000 for the race.
Presuming Judge prevails, he will face Republicans Jerry Torres, who shortly before qualifying shifted his candidacy over from Florida’s 15th Congressional District, and Sam Nashagh, who filed on qualification day. The Florida Democratic Party also sued to have Torres disqualified over a notary signature.