A Leon County circuit judge Friday rejected arguments by state Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, that he should have been allowed to qualify for the 2014 elections.
The Department of State prevented Fullwood from qualifying due to back-to-back errors by notaries public.
Leon County Circuit Judge James Hankinson ruled that the errors were enough to prevent Fullwood from qualifying.
"No judge ever wants to keep a candidate off the ballot," Hankinson said. "But the Legislature has consistently signaled a desire to have these statutes strictly construed."
Fullwood would have run unopposed in House District 13 this year. The judge's decision means the state will have to call a special election.
Fullwood said he doesn't know if anyone will challenge him in the new race, but Jacksonville City Councilman Ronnie Gaffney, who planned to seek the office in the 2016, told News4Jax last month he had already filed paperwork to run in the special election.
"I'm not sure, because qualifying hasn't opened up," he said after the hearing. "There's rumors that folks will run, but I guess you don't know until they actually up and qualify."
The dispute stems from Fullwood submitting a form to elections officials on June 19 that did not have a notary's required signature. After being told of the error, he submitted a revised form the next day -- the final day of qualifying for this year's elections -- but a second notary failed to make a required checkmark on part of the form.
Fullwood filed the lawsuit against Secretary of State Ken Detzner on July 29 in Leon County circuit court, focusing on the error involving the lack of a signature and contending that the state's decision not to allow him to qualify was improper.
Attorney Neil Henrichsen, chairman of the Duval County Democratic Party, represented Fullwood. He argued Friday that the notary had printed her name on the qualifying document, showing that the candidate had complied with the spirit of the law.
"The (form) was properly verified … in that he appeared before the notary and took the oath," Henrichsen said. "The trustworthiness of the document is not at issue."
Fullwood had submitted most of his required documents the day before the qualifying period ended, including a check for his fee of $1,781.82.
But Ashley Davis, an attorney for Detzner, said the secretary "didn't have the luxury" of accepting the 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," Davis argued. "A 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."
After the hearing, Fullwood said he still thought the special elections were a waste of taxpayer money. "But a judge obviously ruled differently," he said