Making short work of the issue, the 1st District Court of Appeal on Friday refused to change the 17-vote victory of Senate candidate Jeff Clemens in a Democratic primary against Mack Bernard, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.
Shortly afterward, Bernard contacted his opponent and conceded the District 27 race. Both are state House members from Palm Beach County.
Less than 24 hours after hearing arguments, a three-judge panel rejected Bernard’s appeal, saying that Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis followed the letter of the law last month when he determined that the Palm Beach County canvassing board acted appropriately when it rejected 40 unopened absentee ballots.
The appellate court rejected arguments by Bernard’s attorney, former House Republican lawmaker J.C. Planas, that the canvassing board – and Lewis – should have taken greater steps to identify whether the rejected ballots were indeed valid.
Instead, the court sided with Clemens’ attorney, Ron Meyer, who argued that a 2011 election law explicitly maps out what a circuit judge can and can’t do when asked to review the actions of a local canvassing board in a close election.
“The statute explicitly states that the circuit court may not review or consider any other evidence,” the court wrote in a group opinion. “Here, the circuit court reviewed the evidence … and found that the canvassing board had not abused its discretion. Appellants’ argument that the circuit court was required to review additional evidence is contrary to the plain meaning of the statute.”
Bernard conceded defeat shortly after the ruling, telling the Palm Beach Post that he will make no further challenges. Planas also said there will be no more appeals.
“It’s time for us to move forward and to move on to the November election,” Bernard told the Post.
Clemens told the News Service of Florida that he received a call from Bernard conceding defeat shortly after the ruling was posted. Clemens, who faces only a write-in candidate in November, said he can now concentrate on the details of the job.
“I expect this will be the end of it,” Clemens said of the election challenge. “We felt all along that we were in the right. …I’m looking forward to taking office in November.”