TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A lawyer for a Florida House candidate contesting his 13-vote primary defeat said a judge bolstered his argument Tuesday by ruling six absentee ballots found in checking just two precincts had invalid signatures.
An opposing attorney disagreed during a break in the hearing on the South Florida dispute arising from the Democratic primary. The hearing continues Wednesday.
Rep. John Patrick Julien contends all absentee ballots in the two precincts, or possibly all 53 precincts in District 107, should be thrown out. He argues some were fraudulently cast on behalf of people who were dead or now say they never voted. In either case, that would make Julien the winner.
Julien, a native of Haiti, alleges tainted ballots were collected from two nursing homes by a pair of absentee ballot brokers hired by Rep. Barbara Watson. She recruited the brokers to help her campaign in Haitian-American neighborhoods.
"We believe that an election that is rife with fraud, when the absentee ballots have been shown to be fraudulent, the law and justice dictates that those absentee ballots not be considered," said Julien's lawyer, J.C. Planas, a Republican ex-lawmaker.
The Aug. 14 primary pitted the two Democratic incumbents against each other as a result of redistricting. Watson, of Miami Gardens, was declared the winner over Julien, of North Miami, after two recounts. The Democratic nominee is virtually assured of re-election against two write-in candidates in the Nov. 6 general election.
Watson's lawyer, Christopher Benjamin, said the six invalid signatures found by Chief Circuit Judge Charles Francis in examining more than 250 absentee ballots and two others that Planas questioned aren't enough to reverse the results.
Benjamin said he also doubts Planas will be able to prove any wrongdoing because he hasn't yet identified any witnesses to call other than Watson campaign workers.
Francis has ordered one of the ballot brokers, Carline Paul, to appear at Wednesday's hearing. Process servers were unable to find the other, Noucelie Josna.
Paul's "comments thus far have been that she has done nothing wrong, and we believe she's done nothing wrong," Benjamin said. "I believe she will exonerate herself."
Planas said four of the six ballots with invalid signatures came from the two nursing homes and he's contesting two others that came from one of the nursing homes.
"You have to wonder, if you found six questionable ones from just two precincts, what would the others yield?" Planas asked.
Planas also is representing another losing legislative candidate challenging a Democratic primary result.
He'll argue Thursday before a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal on behalf of Rep. Mack Bernard, who is challenging his 17-vote loss to Rep. Jeff Clemens in a South Florida state Senate district. A circuit judge previously rejected Bernard's challenge. The Democratic nominee in this race also faces only a write-in opponent in District 27.
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