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Lawsuit filed to open primary for state attorney

Suit calls write-in candidate's challenge to Corey 'sham, political ploy'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Civil rights attorney Bill Sheppard has sued the supervisors of elections in Duval, Nassau and Clay Counties, asking a judge to open the primary for state attorney.

The suit was filed on behalf of registered voters in those three counties.

State Attorney Angela Corey is seeking re-election and is being challenged by fellow Republicans Wesley White and Melissa Nelson.

The primary, which would have been open to all voters without a non-Republican challenger, was closed to non-Republican voters after Kenny Leigh, a known Republican, filed as a write-in candidate with no party affiliation.

"With the challengers, they're calling foul, because it seems as if it's orchestrated by Angela Corey to have a write-in candidate to not allow independents and Democrats to vote in this primary race," News4Jax political analyst Jennifer Carroll said.

The lawsuit claims Corey and her supporters “decided to thwart” the process, and that her campaign manager “materially assisted: in the filing of Leigh’s qualifying papers.”

The lawsuit characterizes Leigh’s candidacy as a “sham and political ploy,” designed to prevent the 4th Judicial Circuit’s 438,000 Democrats, independents and non-Republican voters from voting in the primary.

"Angela Corey probably sees that it's better for her to lock it down to where just Republicans can vote in this race. She has a very strong Republican base and more than likely, she will win with just Republicans in this election."

Carroll said if Leigh's candidacy does turn out to be a sham, the lawsuit could have an impact.

"Because it seems as if it's orchestrated, and that is not what the law and the rules intend for write-in candidates," Carroll said. 

The lawsuit also named Corey’s campaign manager and seeks an expedited hearing.

The State Attorney's Office said it is a campaign issue and will not comment on campaign matters. News4Jax contacted the Corey campaign, but has not yet received a statement.

On Friday, News4Jax learned Leigh and Alexander Pantinakis have filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit. Leigh also filed a motion that he not be compelled to give a deposition.

There was a hearing on the lawsuit Friday, and there is another hearing scheduled for Tuesday morning.