The race for a Broward judgeship took a litigious turn Wednesday when one candidate turned to the court to stop an advertising campaign endorsing her opponent.
Broward Circuit Judge William W. Haury on Friday granted an injunction against political action committee A Better Florida For All over its distribution of a left-leaning Broward Voters Guide, which endorsed Tanner Channing Demmery for the seat that plaintiff Corey Amanda Cawthon is eyeing.
The move came just days before the Nov. 6 general election, when Broward voters will select their new judge.
According to Cawthon’s suit, the political action committee, its treasurers Jacqueline Ramsay and Omar Smith, and chairwoman Sophia Nelson illegally distributed their election guides after Oct. 25, when they lost certification to do so.
The judge has ordered the committee to stop distributing the guides or risk being found in contempt of court.
Distributing the material without certification violated election law, according to the court order, which labeled the group’s actions “illegal electioneering” intended to “unlawfully interfere” with the upcoming election.
ABFFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday, and it’s not clear whether it has a lawyer. The group’s website appears to have been shut down.
The ABFFA lost its license after falling behind on monthly reports detailing contributions and expenditures, then ignoring an administrative fine.
“At that point, the committee could not continue operating as a duly registered political committee,” Salivar said. “If the committee members had decided to follow the law and to cease distribution of these political advertisements in the name of a committee that was no longer registered, there never would have been an issue.”
ABFFA filed its last financial report in August, which according to exhibit D of Cawthon’s complaint, listed contributions of more than $9,000 since March 2017 and an expenditure of $8,536.
“It was interesting that, all of a sudden, in the 60 days leading up to the Nov. 6 election, there’s no reporting filed with the Division of Elections,” Salivar said.
Instead, Schwartz said, “You had people who were out at each of the early voting locations handing out these illegal guides.”
“If you’re going to go ahead and have these political advertisements, you need to be upfront about the money you receive, where it comes from and how you spend it,” Schwartz said.
By Schwartz’s estimate, the group put ”tens of thousands” of pamphlets in the hands of potential voters without permission.
Schwartz called the matter “extraordinarily serious” and “disturbing,” particularly on the eve of a general election.
“The problem is each one of the candidates is shoving pieces of paper in the face of all voters, so the people don’t know what’s legitimate and what isn’t legitimate,” Schwartz said.
The guide appeared to be Democratic-leaning, though it’s not clear whether any of the featured candidates gave the OK to be featured.
Though county court judges are elected to office, the judicial canon requires them to refrain from politics.
With the injunction now in place, Schwartz said police have been called to enforce it and “have these people stop disseminating the guide.”
Read the full court order: