A Leon County circuit judge Friday ruled that a Republican candidate is ineligible to run for a Tampa Bay-area congressional seat because he failed to properly qualify.

Judge Blocks Tampa Bay Congressional Candidate

A Leon County circuit judge Thursday issued a formal order finding that a Tampa Bay-area congressional candidate is ineligible to run this year and refused to put the ruling on hold during an appeal.

A Leon County circuit judge Thursday issued a formal order finding that a Tampa Bay-area congressional candidate is ineligible to run this year and refused to put the ruling on hold during an appeal.

Judge John Cooper announced last week that he would rule Republican Jerry Torres did not properly qualify for the ballot but did not issue the formal ruling until Thursday. He also rejected a request by Torres’ attorneys for a stay while they challenge his ruling at the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Cooper ordered Secretary of State Cord Byrd to decertify Torres as a candidate in Congressional District 14 in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. He also ordered county supervisors of elections to comply with requirements about giving notice to voters and tabulating votes “when a candidate has been disqualified.”

Plaintiffs, including the Florida Democratic Party and former state Rep. Sean Shaw, D-Tampa, filed a lawsuit last month challenging Torres’ candidacy by alleging that his campaign paperwork was not properly notarized.

Cooper found that Torres submitted three campaign oaths, including oaths notarized by Mississippi notaries. But Cooper wrote that Torres was not present when the documents were notarized.

“Defendant Torres did not sign the oath form before a notary public or by using online notarization,” Cooper wrote in Thursday’s 15-page order. “He did not fill out the form. He was never placed under oath. He never even spoke to the notaries who purported to witness his signature. Although the second and third oath forms indicated defendant Torres signed them on June 16, 2022, before a notary in Mississippi, he admits he was in Sierra Leone at the time.”

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After Cooper announced last week how he would rule, Torres’ attorneys filed a motion for a stay pending an appeal.

“The elections supervisors have indicated that they will begin immediately informing voters that Torres is ineligible for election,” the July 29 motion said. “That means voters who otherwise wish to vote for Torres will no longer be able to do so. This could affect thousands of ballots every day, and there is no way for those votes to be recast. For obvious reasons, the court’s decision, unless stayed, will unavoidably prejudice Torres’ campaign as critical fundraising, endorsement and get-out-the-vote efforts will be prejudiced.”

Cooper issued a one-paragraph order Thursday denying the request for a stay. Torres’ attorneys also filed a notice of appeal Thursday.

Republicans are seeking to unseat U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., in Congressional District 14. Torres had been removed from the state Division of Elections website as an active candidate Thursday afternoon. Other candidates in the race are Republicans James Judge and Sam Nashagh and Democrat Christopher Bradley.

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