An appellate court will allow an attempt to disqualify congressional candidate Jerry Torres to proceed.
A stay has been lifted on a lawsuit filed by the Florida Democratic Party and a Leon Circuit Judge can now proceed with the case. Attorneys for Torres maintain he’s being railroaded and treated differently than other candidates.
Mike Beltran, a state Representative representing Torres in the case, said the defendant is entitled to more time to argue a case than he’s been provided.
“My client’s constitutional rights have been violated to do this so quickly,” he said.
Meanwhile, critics from the left and right say Torres has no place in the race.
Republican opponent James Judge called on Torres to drop out of the race. The two candidates, along with Republican Sam Ashagh, will face off in an Aug. 23 GOP Primary to decide who takes on U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor in Florida’s 14th Congressional District in November.
Judge, who has followed the case in court, cited allegations raised in a lawsuit filed by former Democratic state Rep. Sean Shaw, Republican lawyer Thomas Hodges and the Florida Democratic Party. Democrats allege Torres was not in the country when paperwork filed to run for office was notarized.
“I believe what the Torres campaign did was not only unethical, it appears to me that more than one person with the campaign broke the laws of Florida and Mississippi, and because of this he must immediately drop out of the Primary race,” Judge said.
“The fact is that his very first official act as a candidate — signing his candidate oath form outside the presence of a notary — was dishonest, and he’s already proven to the constituents here in Tampa that he cannot be trusted.”
Meanwhile, court proceedings also revealed Torres to be recovering from COVID-19 and traveling in Africa.
Judge said revelations Torres remains out the country even now explain why he’s been completely absent from the campaign trail.
“Torres’ promise from day one has been to buy this election, not to make an appeal to the voters. So far, he’s only spent his money tying up Florida’s court system to argue that he shouldn’t have to follow the law like the rest of us. He’s already behaving like a typical D.C. politician,” Judge said.
“I’ve never met the guy. We’re less than a month from the Primary Election, and we still haven’t seen Jerry Torres on the campaign trail once,” Judge added. “He sends a surrogate or outrightly skips every event in the district. For all we know, he’s still in Africa.”
It’s all made for a much more newsworthy Primary than to be expected in a blue district where Democrat Joe Biden won with 57% of the vote in 2020.
Torres’ camp, though, has suggested Castor has her hands in the challenge to his candidacy.
Of note, Hodges works at the same law firm as Bill Lewis, Castor’s husband. Beltran, a Lithia Republican, questioned Hodges about his working relationship with Lewis in a deposition this month. Lewis and Hodges both work at Butler Weihmuller Katz Craig, where Lewis is a partner and Hodges is a senior associate.
“I’ve discussed the case with him (Lewis),” Hodges said in the deposition. “I know that we talked about the other candidate, Judge. I think he told me he was going back on the ballot.”
That referenced the fact that Judge last month was initially determined not to have qualified to run in the contest. That Division of Elections decision stemmed from the fact that Judge signed the wrong candidate oath.
But Judge sued and had his candidacy restored.
Beltran successfully pushed previously for the First District Court of Appeal to put a stay on the Torres case and stop a hearing from moving forward last week. He argued Leon Circuit Courts were not allowing a proper amount of time for discovery.
But on Monday, the DCA lifted a stay on the case moving ahead.
Beltran said the fact these disputes continue to play out in court itself upsets the political process. He scoffed at the lawsuit as “ballot trolling.”
“Whether Torres is a good candidate should be decided by the people at the ballot box,” Beltran said. “In fact, it is being decided.”
He noted mail-in ballots already have started to flow, and if Torres is disqualified, any votes for him will not count, effectively denying the ability of voters who already cast ballots to weigh in on the Primary. It’s likely many military voters overseas, to whom ballots are sent as early as possible, will be among those most disenfranchised.
“Judge, like Castor, should be focused on their own campaign, not on litigation,” Beltran said. “Maybe when I am finished with this litigation, I can focus on my campaign.”