District 7 voters may get to know on Thursday, finally, who they collectively chose as new commissioner Tuesday to replace Carlos Gimenez, who resigned to run for mayor.
Or they may still be in the dark if the Third District Court of Appeal upholds a decision by a Miami Dade Circuit Court judge to temporarily suppress the results of that election until the challenge of its validity by a third would-be candidate is heard.
The county has appealed Judge William Thomas' decision after a two-part hearing Monday. The three-judge panel will hear arguments Thursday afternoon. Ladra believes the intent, as the county states in its motion, is to get the results know by Friday's canvassing board confirmation and swearing in of the new commissioner(s). Rush, rush, rush. In fact, their heavy-handed brief -- citing 27 other cases -- says that the withholding of results "disserves the public interest." Wow. Talk about los pajaros tirandole a la escopeta. You know, the kettle and the pot thing.
What is a disservice to the public interest was to deny Ricardo Corona, who filed his papers by 4:58 p.m. on qualifying day, the right to be on that ballot. His 2009 tax return should have been accepted since the 2010 one was not due until April 18. Instead the elections staff gave him a financial disclosure form to fill out in the lobby and, when it was stamped at 5:22 p.m., they told him he was too late. Get this: They told him on the phone. In the lobby, they told him they would get back to him because they didn't know.
It is also a disservice for three county attorneys to fight this so hard when it makes no sense to and could easily have been avoided in the first place. Or fixed in the second. Corona says that 29 hours was not sufficient time for an outsider candidate such as himself, a political novice (yeah, he ran for judge once but was screwed by his campaign people and lost in a horrible hail of stupid negative attacks. Novice.), to qualify. It's not as easy as showing up with some notarized documents, ladies and gentlemen. You have to go at least twice, because after getting a document so you can open a bank account, you have to go with that bank account information on a treasurer's report. You have to pay the qualifying fee with a check drawn from that campaign account. Then you might believe the people who tell you that one of your documents is insufficient and give you another to fill out. Before you criticize, go through the process.
It's a disservice to this community, to the taxpayers that fund the county attorney's office, to write in the brief that 17 other candidates qualified in the same qualification period. That is not entirely true. While they did submit their loyalty oaths and financial disclosures on April 14, some candidates filed some papers, like designation of campaign accounts, much earlier. Particularly those in the races for the recalled mayor and commissioner in District 13, who had since March 15 to know that those seats were going to be open (unlike Gimenez, who resigned a day earlier and was wavering in the days before that). Particularly those who are polished, practiced politicians with medium to large operations behind them. Take a look at the time stamped on their qualifying documents, particularly the bank accounts and when they are open. Gimenez did qualify April 12, but because he only resigned the day before. He was, however, likely ready with the paperwork. He had intended to run for mayor in 2012 and began fundraising in February. His runoff partner Julio Robaina, who resigned as Hialeah mayor the day before the election, filed his first paperwork on Jan. 10. Nobody beats former State Rep. Marcelo Llorente, however, who came in third thanks to absentee and early voting (more on that later) and filed the first paperwork of the bunch -- in June of 2009. Other candidates who filed early some of their documents, mostly the opening of campaign accounts and statement of candidate: Jose "Pepe" Cancio on March 26, Farid Khavari on March 10, Roosevelt Bradley on March 28, Eddie Lewis on April 7, Jeffrey Lampert on April 4. All but three, four if you include Gimenez. In the other commission race, former State Rep. Esteban Bovo filed his first documents March 22, the week after veteran commissioner Natacha Seijas was recalled, but the other three seemed to file that same qualifying day. And in District 7, both former State Rep. Julio Robaina (March 25) and former Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez (February 23) filed some paperwork early. They seemed far more ready than a political outsider who did not know if District 7 was going to be open or not until the day before.
The county says the injunction to suppress the vote count is "fatally defective and must be vacated" because it fails to make any findings of support to warrant the injunction and that even if the court had, "there is no substantial likelihood that Corona would have succeeded on the merits of his claim" -- which is exactly what opposing counsel is supposed to say. The appeal also says the injunction "disserves the public interest by depriving District 7 of representation on the county commission during the pendency of this case."
So, maybe they are right about that part. Ladra wouldn't mind if they release the count (and we really don't believe that nobody knows by now) as long as whoever gets to be sworn in Friday knows it could be temporary, if a judge later decides Corona's rights were violated. If Suarez wins, he could be overturned once again (like he was after his 1997 election to mayor showed widespread evidence of ballot tampering and fraud, though he was never charged with a crime). And if I worked at county hall, I'd call in sick the next couple days just in case. If Robaina wins, as Ladra suspects and prays, he seems to be confident enough in a redo that he doesn't mind what the court does. He has said publicly that he will abide with whatever the judge decides to ensure a clean process and feels that what the county did to Corona may have been "a travesty."
Corona himself wants the vote count out. He said that was never his intention and he does not mind if there is an interim commissioner (my words, not his) while his case is heard. After all, he lives in the district and wants representation, too. In fact, the county is disingenuous and, Ladra fears, is doing this simply to take it out of Thomas' courtroom because the judge is at least willing to give Corona the time of day. He seems to take the issue very seriously and has ruled in favor of Corona already. Maybe the county attorneys wanted to take it to another venue. Because Corona's attorneys were ready to proceed with the case in front of Thomas on Monday. "I do not believe there is any question about the actual facts in this case. .. your honor could absolutely rule today without any further hearing testimony, evidentiary hearing testimony," William Petros said. It was Assistant County Attorney Oren Rosenthal who told the judge he was not ready.
"I may want to depose Mr. Corona. Find out what he was doing that day," Rosenthal said. Has he by now? No. This is obviously an attempt to take it out of Thomas' hands.
Any delay in the release of the vote count was caused by that.
A call to Rosenthal at the county attorney's office was not immediately returned. Ladra will try to ask him today what changed since Monday.