Rep. Reggie Fullwood loses legal bid for reinstatement on HD 13 ballot

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State Rep. Reggie Fullwood lost his bid for reinstatement on the 2014 ballot after a Leon County circuit judge rejected his argument on Friday.

Leon County Circuit Judge James Hankinson ruled Fullwood’s errors were enough for the Department of State to deny the Jacksonville Democrat from qualifying due to two consecutive omissions by notaries public.

“No judge ever wants to keep a candidate off the ballot,” said Hankinson. “But the Legislature has consistently signaled a desire to have these statutes strictly construed.”

Fullwood was previously running unopposed in House District 13.

The State will now call a special election, and Fullwood told Margie Menzel of the News Service of Florida that he is not sure if he will draw a challenge.

“I’m not sure, because qualifying hasn’t opened up,” he said just after the judge’s ruling. “There’s rumors that folks will run, but I guess you don’t know until they actually up and qualify.”

Fullwood submitted nearly all the qualifying paperwork on June 19 — one day before the end of the qualifying period — including a check for the $1,781.82 qualifying fee.

However, one notary made an error on Fullwood’s financial-disclosure form. The Florida Democratic Party prepared for a correction of the form by a second notary, prior to delivery to the Division of Elections office.

A second clerk failed to check a required box.

On July 29, attorney Neil Henrichsen, chair of the Duval County Democratic Party, filed a lawsuit on Fullwood’s behalf against Secretary of State Ken Detzner in Leon County circuit court. The case focused on the lack of a signature and contending that the state’s decision not to allow him to qualify was improper.

Henrichsen argued that the notary printed her name on the qualifying document, indicating that Fullwood conformed to the spirit of the law.

“The (form) was properly verified … in that he appeared before the notary and took the oath,” he said. “The trustworthiness of the document is not at issue.”

Attorney Ashley Davis, representing Detzner, said he “didn’t have the luxury” of accepting incomplete qualifying paperwork.

“It’s unlikely that a consistent interpretation of how much non-compliance can be tolerated can be predictably applied from one filing officer to another, let alone one candidate to another,” she contended. “Legal regime where ‘close enough’ is the standard just would inevitably lead to allegations, in this highly charged political environment, of favoritism and impossible line-drawing regarding various levels of non-compliance.”

Afterwards, Fullwood told Menzel he believes a special election will be a waste of taxpayer money.

“But a judge obviously ruled differently,” he added.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.