Tampa lawyer Ryan Torrens is back on the Democratic ballot in the race for Florida Attorney General, at least for now.
The 1st District Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay Monday morning that halts a lower court decision to remove Torrens from the ballot.
The decision was accompanied by an “expedited” review of a ruling Friday by Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers that ordered Torrens removed from the ballot for improperly writing a check that helped him cover the qualifying fee for the race.
The lawsuit was brought by Torrens' Democratic opponent, State Rep. Sean Shaw of Tampa.
Torrens argues in his appeal that Shaw didn't follow the proper steps to file this kind of complaint and that Gievers “exceeded” her authority, because a complaint over a campaign finance violation should have gone to the Florida Elections Commission rather than circuit court.
Torrens briefly addressed reporters about the appeal outside his office in South Tampa Monday afternoon.
He expressed confidence about his chances of winning Tuesday’s Democratic primary election but also admitted that even though he’s back on the ballot, Shaw still managed to strike a blow.
"Just by filing his last-minute lawsuit seeking to have me removed from the ballot, my opponent accomplished a negative politics messaging goal that he could not have achieved by merely campaigning before the voters," Torrens said.
In his lawsuit, Shaw argued that Torrens incorrectly signed his wife’s name to a check worth $4,000 from a “multiple holder” account in which each person controls how much they put in.
Individual donors, other than candidates, are limited to contributing $3,000 in statewide races, and the check put Torrens’ wife over the cap.
Torrens maintains the check came from a joint account and that candidates are allowed to loan unlimited amounts of money to their campaigns.
In the ruling, Judge Karen Gievers criticized Torrens for “selective memory” regarding the check and said he should be decertified as a candidate.
“As an attorney for some seven years, as a candidate for public office, as an applicant for public financing to help with his campaign, and as a candidate to serve as the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the state, Mr. Torrens is charged with knowledge of the law,” Gievers wrote. “Mr. Torrens clearly acted contrary to the law, knowingly.”
At his press conference Monday afternoon, Torrens referred to that language when he lamented how the past few days may have affected his campaign.
"The court's negative words had the effect of spreading a very negative view of my campaign throughout the state, despite the very positive, solutions-oriented campaign that I have run all across this state for the last 15 months," Torrens said.
Gievers had also directed Secretary of State Ken Detzner to notify all 67 county supervisors of election of the decertification of Torrens.
Torrens claims the decision to remove him from the ballot “disenfranchised tens of thousands of Florida early voters.”
More than 800,000 Democrats have already voted in the primary, though it’s still unclear how many voted for Torrens.
When asked for a response about the appeal, Rep. Shaw’s office issued the following statement in an email:
“We won’t be commenting on on-going litigation. We’ll let Judge Grievers [sic] words speak for themselves. We're proceeding as we have been with the assumption that we're going to be the nominee.”
The appeals court has not said whether it will hear arguments ahead of Tuesday’s election.
Florida Matters recently heard from Torrens, Shaw and Republican candidate for Attorney General Ashley Moody during a conversation about campaign issues. Listen here.