Thursday, June 30, 2016


Republicans use "write-in" shills to close universal primaries in North Florida. Democrats use "write-in" shills to close universal primaries in South Florida. It is unconstitutional. Enough.


First DCA to review closed primary in State Attorney’s race
Posted Monday, June 27, 2016 6:26 pm
Folio Weekly

Florida’s First District Court of Appeal will take briefs on the “sham candidate” case brought by four Northeast Florida plaintiffs who want to open the Republican primary race for State Attorney to non-Republican voters. Plaintiffs contend that State Attorney Angela Corey colluded with divorce attorney Kenny Leigh to file as a write-in candidate in order to close the primary. Plaintiffs further allege that closing the primary gives Corey a political advantage while excluding the majority of voters in the Fourth Judicial Circuit, which they say violates federal law.

Retired Clay County Judge Richard Townsend, who Chief Judge Mark Mahon appointed to hear the case, dismissed the voter-plaintiffs’ lawsuit on June 17. Townsend wrote that the question of a candidate’s intent in joining a race was not a new issue under Florida law, and that the case has already been settled by precedent. Leigh is the fourth person to enter the race, joining former prosecutors Wes White and Melissa Nelson, and incumbent State Attorney Angela Corey.

But plaintiffs’ attorneys say that Leigh’s candidacy presents a new question for the court. In a message to Folio Weekly Magazine, attorney Betsy White, partner in one of the law firms that filed the suit, explains why the Scott case is different from the precedent Judge Townsend relied on.

“In Brinkman, there was no allegation that the write-in candidate was a total sham, and there was no federal cause of action alleged,” she wrote.

In a later message, White added, “In my opinion, Mr. Leigh has made it clear that his candidacy is a sham to support Ms. Corey's campaign, to which he has made financial contributions.”

In addition to alleging that Leigh’s candidacy is a “sham” and not real opposition under Florida’s Universal Primary Amendment (UPA), the plaintiffs — all non-Republicans — allege they are being denied substantive due process because closing the primary excludes them from voting.

Bill Sheppard, one of White’s law partners, and attorney Sam Jacobson argued in their brief on behalf of plaintiffs:

“Weak candidacies, foolish candidacies, and even futile candidacies genuinely, but hopelessly pursued are entitled deference and respect as real candidacies under UPA. But sham candidacies being carried on not to seek votes, but to suppress voting or divert votes, are entitled to no deference or respect. Such candidacies are in a real sense an attack on the electoral process itself.”

Lindsey Brock, attorney for former Corey campaign manager, Alexander Pantinakis, disagrees, and said he supports Townsend’s ruling. “[Townsend] asked the specific question, ‘How can you be disenfranchised if you’re not first enfranchised?’” (Pantinakis, who is also a Duval County Republican State Committeeman, filed Leigh’s write-in candidacy paperwork for him in Tallahassee on May 5. Along with Leigh and the Duval, Clay, and Nassau County Supervisors of Elections, Pantinakis is a defendant in the suit.)

Pantinakis did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Leigh, who is representing himself in the case, spoke exclusively to FWM.

“I did it because the Democrats should have put a person in, instead of watering down the Republicans,” Leigh said.

“If it’s open then the Democrats can vote and get the most liberal Republican,” Leigh said.

Under UPA, when all of the candidates running for an office are from one party, the primary is opened to all voters, regardless of party affiliation.

But any opposition candidate filing to run – even a write-in – closes the primary. The voter-plaintiffs contend that Leigh’s write-in candidacy is a “perversion of UPA’s purposes,” and allege collusion between Corey and Leigh. After filing as a write-in, Leigh told The Florida Times-Union: “I am absolutely an Angela Corey supporter.”

“I gave money to Angela Corey,” Leigh told FWM. “She’s the first one who came to me.” But he maintains he did not join the race to give Corey an electoral advantage she wouldn’t have otherwise had if the primary had remained open to non-Republicans.

“I haven’t spoken to Angela Corey since — I would say since I was a prosecutor in 2002. Not two words,” Leigh says, though he admits he might have run into her at Republican events, and says he and his son also ran into her at a local restaurant. He says Corey didn’t recognize him but complimented him on his “cute son.”

Leigh said that before the lawsuit, he’d “never met” Pantinakis. As for the paperwork that Leigh filled out to qualify as a write-in candidate, which Pantinakis filed on his behalf, he said:

“I literally sent it to my friend who sent it to the Republican committee in Duval County. It’s a comedy of errors that he [Pantinakis] filed it.”

When asked in a follow-up text who the friend was, Leigh replied that he would not answer the question. “I don’t want his name in the paper. He just did me a quick favor and this would turn his world upside down.”

When asked if Leigh would deny the friend was Matt Justice, a political consultant of Corey’s, Leigh replied, “I am not going to confirm or deny any names.”

Fellow candidate for State Attorney, Wes White, has charged that the write-in primary closure plan was the “handiwork” of Justice, who is ostensibly good friends with Leigh.

Leigh said he had “no idea” that Nelson would be running at the time he decided to become a write-in. Nelson filed her candidacy on May 5, the final day of qualifying and the same day Leigh’s paperwork was filed.

“No agent, no friend, no anything asked me to be a write-in candidate,” Leigh said. Instead, he said he wanted to run to talk about LGBT rights.

Leigh identified himself as a “pro-gay” Republican, remarking, “The party is getting ruined by the far-right wing.”

But Leigh acknowledged that people would doubt that this was his true motive, “especially since I don’t know any gay people.”

“I know how it looks,” Leigh said. “I don’t care how it looks because it doesn’t hurt my business.” After hearing this quote read back to him, he surmised that the controversy could hurt his business in the future.

Leigh admitted that he did file with the specific purpose of closing the primary but denied doing so to support a specific candidate.

Leigh did, however, concede that he opposes White’s candidacy because he said White acted like a “badass” at a campaign event.

“We can’t have a state attorney who wants to be a badass.”

Florida Politics reported that Pantinakis implied that he filed for Leigh for the exact purpose of closing the primary:

“I received and submitted Kenny Leigh’s documents on Thursday, May 5th solely in my capacity as the Duval County Republican State Committeeman,” Pantinakis wrote in a prepared statement. “Throughout my time as State Committeeman, I have always been a proponent of ensuring that only registered Republicans select Republican nominees for office and would question any Republican candidate who would reject that idea.”

The clock is ticking in the case because primary ballots must be printed and mailed forty-five days prior to the August 30 primary.

Betsy White did note that courts have “broad powers in fashioning remedies” for elections violations, including ordering new elections if necessary. The electoral “cure” for excluding non-Republicans from the primary presumably would be to include them as voters.

The First DCA granted the case expedited consideration last Friday. Sheppard and Jacobson filed their brief that day. Brock and Leigh both plan to file answer briefs by tomorrow, June 28. The plaintiffs, in turn, expect to reply to the answer briefs by June 29.

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