Florida Appeals Court Rejects State Attorney Candidate in Alachua County Race

On Aug. 17, the Florida First District Court of Appeal upheld a prior ruling disqualifying Beverly McCallum from the Eighth Judicial Circuit state attorney race. McCallum was barred from running because of a 15-day suspension by the Florida Supreme Court. 

The Eighth Judicial Circuit includes Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties.

McCallum, a Democrat, and her Republican opponent Brian Kramer filed qualifying papers for their state attorney candidacies in April. The current state attorney in the Eighth Judicial Circuit, Republican Bill Cervone, is not running for reelection.

Kramer filed a complaint with the district court of Leon County to disqualify McCallum. The complaint says McCallum does not meet the constitutional requirements to run for state attorney because of her 15-day suspension.

The Florida Bar suspended McCallum for misconduct from Dec. 20, 2019, to Jan. 3, 2020.

In 2017, McCallum accused two Fifth Judicial Circuit Court Judges of misconduct. The allegations include open hostility toward McCallum and quid pro quo based on an inappropriate interaction between the judge and another attorney.

Upon investigation, the Florida Bar found that McCallum’s allegations were not consistent with courtroom video footage. McCallum was subsequently suspended for violating four rules regulating the Florida Bar, including the Oath of Admission and making a statement that a lawyer knows to be false.

According to Article V Section 17 of the Florida Constitution, a state attorney must have been a member of the Florida Bar for the preceding five years. This constitutional requirement was the focus of Kramer’s argument.

Kramer cited case law from the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion in Advisory Opinion to Governor re Commission of Elected Judge (2009). This ruling found that a “member of the bar of Florida” refers to a “member with the privilege to practice law.”

“You have to have been a member of the Florida Bar for the preceding five years. There is a 15-day gap in the preceding five years for McCallum where she was not a member of the Florida Bar with a privilege to practice,” said Kramer. “So, five years after that gap is closed, she will meet the qualifications. But right now, she doesn’t.”

McCallum made numerous counter arguments, none of which the district court found persuasive. These included an argument that the case law does not apply to the circumstances of this case, that she remained a member of the Florida Bar during her suspension, and that voters should ultimately decide the qualifications of candidates.

On July 29, Leon County Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey found that McCallum was constitutionally ineligible to be state attorney. Dempsey issued an injunction to prevent McCallum from appearing on the ballot.

“I respect the judiciary but will swiftly appeal the case. With so many issues we face as a community lately, impacted are the constitutional and political rights of over a quarter-million Eighth Circuit voters. These principles are the very bedrock of our participatory democracy,” said McCallum.

McCallum appealed the case to Florida’s First District Court of Appeal. The Court’s three-judge panel rejected her appeal on Aug. 17. 

“Because McCallum was suspended from the practice of law for a period of 15 days in 2019, McCallum does not meet the eligibility requirements for the office of state attorney provided under … the Florida Constitution, namely that a person ‘be and have been a member of the bar of Florida for the preceding five years,’” said the ruling by Judges Brad Thomas, Lori Rowe and Robert Long.

According to the Gainesville Sun, McCallum stated in a text message on Aug. 18 that she respects the appeals court ruling. McCallum has not yet stated whether or not she will appeal the ruling further. 

Per Dempsey’s July 29 ruling, the Florida Division of Elections removed McCallum as a candidate. Accordingly, Kramer will appear as unopposed for Eighth Judicial Circuit state attorney on the November 2020 election ballot.

Featured image: Florida First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee, Florida. Unmodified photo by Michael Rivera used under a Creative Commons license. (https://bit.ly/3hwaJi8

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