Doral Councilwoman Sandra Ruiz was busy putting up campaign signs Wednesday, only hours after a Miami-Dade county court judge ruled the candidate for state rep (District 112) be removed from the Aug. 24 ballot because she failed to comply with the state's "resign to run" law.
That's because the judge also granted a stay until her attorneys have an opportunity to appeal the decision. They were set to file that appeal with the 3rd Disctrict Court of Appeals today (even as her primary election opponent made calls to leading local Dems trying to snatch endorsements as the only Dem on the ballot).
The ruling from Judge Jerald Bagley about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday morning came after more than half day of testimony last Friday in the lawsuit against Ruiz (Dem) filed by two opponents in the race, Johnny Farias (Dem) and Jeanette Nuñez (Rep). Their attorneys -- William Peña Wells and J.C. Planas, respectively -- argued that Ruiz had violated the statute, which requires candidates who are already electeds to resign from any seat where there could be overlap, because she did not file the document by the qualifying day deadline. Ruiz attorneys Joe Geller and Ben Kuehne argue that she was not required to resign because she is termed-out and another council member will be elected at the same time that voters elect a state rep, and will be in that seat.
It's a technicality, for sure. And Ladra believes that Ruiz is such a strong candidate that the opponents took advantage of the semantics here to interpret the law in a way that was not the intended purpose, which is to prevent a "back-door" opening for sitting elected candidates to fall back on if they lose a race to another office. Which is not the case here, obviously.
"I stand by what I did," Ruiz told me early this afternoon in a telephone interview. "I am term limited. Come Nov. 3, there will be a new council member in Doral. C'mon. Common sense tells you that my last day as a council member is Nov. 2.
"I'm not losing this election unless on a technicality on an overlap of a second," Ruiz added. "As they say, 'A stop is a stop.'" But you need to use wisdom in interpreting the law. What can you accomplish in a period of a couple of hours?
"I think it's an abuse of the system to strip the right of the voters to choose," she said of the lawsuit. "If this is the type of tactics they are going to implement, what can we expect from them in Tallahassee?"
She is not the only one who feels that way. Local DEC leaders and loyalists, along with high-profile electeds, think the lawsuit move was ugly.
"This is such a tricky, tacky move," said State Rep. Luis Garcia (D).
"The way to win an election is at the ballot box, not at the courthouse," said Garcia, who confirmed he had received a call from someone in Farias' campaign from the courthouse to announce the verdict - and presumably request Garcia transfer his support from Ruiz.
"I cut them off and said that I was going to wait for the appeal. And, I don't mean to say that I would support a Republican, but it is very hard for me as a Democrat to stomach the actions of Mr. Farias," Garcia told me, adding that other Dems were also disappointed.
"What kind of loyalty can we expect from him? What does he think the Democratic Party is going to like this? It leaves us with a bad taste in our mouths."
But Farias, an electrician, told Ladra several times that he only filed the lawsuit after he heard -- through what means, we don't know -- that Nuñez would file one after the primary if Ruiz (widely seen as the frontrunner) won Aug. 24. Nuñez, VP of exterior affairs for Kendall Regional Medical Center and Aventura Hospital and a former lobbyist for Jackson Health (who also worked for almost a decade as chief legislative aide to Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla), filed her injunction eight days after Farias did in June.
"If she would have won, they would have done this and look at what the outcome would have been," Farias said, adding that his attorney had "specific orders to sit back and let them do what they needed to do."
Ladra thinks almost any judge would not have been so amenable to hearing the arguments more than two months after the alleged violation and perhaps even see through the delay tactic. (Note to legislature: We would do wise by putting a deadline on motions like this).
But Farias said it was not something he wanted to leave to fate.
"That's not a chance I am willing to take. We have to be unselfish. Did we want a democrat in the general election, yes or no? If she had been removed we would have had no democrat in the race. Whats better to have a Democrat or no Democrat?"
Well, that depends on what your definition of a Democrat is. Because at the end of the day, if Farias succeeds in court, he gets a free ride to the November ballot at the 11th hour, depriving voters who are registered as Democrats the right to decide who they want to pit against the Rep primary winner in what most Dems believe is one of the most winnable 2010 seats now held by the other side (Rep. David Rivera, running for Congress).
Farias knows Ruiz is the frontrunner with experience and endorsements from the PBA, UTD, AFL-CIO, Jackson nurses and the Miami Herald and is seen as the most viable candidate against any of the primary Reps in a seat that Dems count on winning this year. This is his best chance at being on the November ballot (Some would say only. I say his best).