By MARGIE MENZEL
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
A legal move to disqualify one of two Democratic candidates for Florida attorney general failed Friday when a Tallahassee judge ruled that George Sheldon met the residency requirements for the race.
The ruling by Chief Judge Charles A. Francis of the 2nd Judicial Circuit means that Sheldon will stay on the ballot in the Aug. 26 primary to decide the Democratic challenger to Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Sheldon, former secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, is running against state House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale.
The case was based on Sheldon living in Washington, D.C., from 2011 to 2013 while he worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The plaintiff, Jessica Elliott of Miami, wasn’t present in the courtroom. Her attorney, Johnny L. McCray, argued that the state Constitution requires candidates for attorney general, in part, to live in the state for seven years before taking office.
“The framers put it there for a reason, and Mr. Sheldon does not meet that requirement,” McCray said.
He also focused on the fact that Sheldon had taken a “nonresident exemption” from The Florida Bar, exempting Sheldon from keeping current on continuing legal education credits.
But attorney Ron Meyer, representing Sheldon, argued that his client had kept his Florida homestead exemption, driver’s license, voter registration and property insurance intact.
In his ruling, Francis noted that Sheldon also had quickly made up 30 hours of continuing legal education credits.
“He worked out of state for that period of time and still came back to Tallahassee and stayed at the house he owned and maintained,” the judge said in announcing the decision.
After the hearing, Sheldon said he was returning his attention to the issues of the campaign.
“If every Floridian lost the right to hold statewide office on the day they accepted a call to serve their country, I think the whole state would be a loser,” he said.
McCray said he was leaning toward filing an appeal, but had not yet spoken with his client.
Thurston, who has said the case raised questions about Sheldon’s candidacy, had no comment Friday. “It’s a non-issue as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
The two Democratic candidates for attorney general have struggled to generate contributions and media attention, while Bondi is sitting on a war chest of $1.6 million, waiting for the victor of the primary.