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Appeals Court Blocks House Candidate From Ballot

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - A divided appeals court has rejected pleas from a Republican state House candidate who contends she was improperly kept off the November ballot because of a bank error on a qualifying check.

The 1st District Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 ruling Wednesday, upheld a Leon County circuit judge's decision that kept Laura Rivero Levey off the ballot in Miami-Dade County's House District 113. Incumbent Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, is unopposed with Levey out of the race.

While echoing a comment by the circuit judge about the harshness of keeping Levey off the ballot, the majority of the appeals court said the decision is required by state law.

Levey submitted a check with her qualifying papers June 17, but the check was not honored by her bank, according to the ruling. State election officials were not notified until after the qualifying period ended June 20. Levey tried to submit a cashier's check for the qualifying fee, accompanied by a letter from the bank indicating it had made an error in returning the original check, but the state would not accept the cashier's check because qualifying was finished.

"The statute at issue is clear and unambiguous,'' said the majority opinion, written by appeals-court Chief Judge Joseph Lewis and joined by Judge Stephanie Ray. "Although we agree with the trial court that this result is harsh, it is mandated by the clear language of the statute. If a candidate's qualifying check is returned for any reason, the candidate must pay the qualifying fee by cashier's check before the end of the qualifying period. Levey's check was returned, the reason for that occurring is immaterial, and she failed to cure the deficiency within the time allotted by the statute."

But Judge Robert Benton wrote a dissenting opinion, saying voters would be deprived of being able to decide who will represent them in the House district. Benton also wrote that Levey was not at fault and that the original check should again be presented to the bank.

"Promptly on being informed of the first check's dishonor when initially presented, Mrs. Levey tendered a second check, this one certified,'' Benton wrote. "While it is true that the second, certified check arrived after qualifying had closed --- she was not, after all, told there was any problem before the qualifying period had ended --- the certified check was wholly superfluous under the facts of the present case."

This report is by Jim Saunders with the News Service of Florida.

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