St. Johns County judicial candidate Scott DuPont ruled ineligible

Attorneys argued that his suspension in 2019 disqualifies him to run this year.

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  • | 4:14 p.m. May 29, 2024
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A former Northeast Florida judge who was suspended from practicing law is not eligible to run for a judicial post this year, a Leon County circuit judge ruled May 29.

Judge J. Lee Marsh held a 30-minute hearing before siding with lawyers representing Rose Marie Preddy, an incumbent judge in the 7th Judicial Circuit who filed a lawsuit challenging the candidacy of Scott DuPont.

DuPont was suspended from practicing law in October 2019 after the Supreme Court removed him as a circuit judge in 2018 because of improper conduct. The removal came after an investigation that, in part, focused on allegations that DuPont spread false information about his 2016 election opponent.

He was reinstated in June 2020.

Daniel Nordby, an attorney who represents Preddy, argued that DuPont’s suspension means he does not meet a constitutional requirement to run this year.

The requirement says a lawyer is not eligible for the office of circuit judge “unless the person is, and has been for the preceding five years, a member of the bar of Florida.”

The new judicial term will start in January, less than five years after DuPont was reinstated.

Pointing to a 2009 Supreme Court advisory opinion, Nordby said justices found “that the usual and ordinary meaning of the term ‘member’ of the bar of Florida refers to a member with the privilege to practice law and does not include suspended lawyers.”

Anthony Sabatini, a former state representative who represents DuPont, contended that DuPont is eligible to run because he remained a member of The Florida Bar throughout his suspension. Sabatini used a sports analogy to illustrate the argument.

“When people think of suspended, they don’t think of, permanently expelled from the team. They would have said … you can’t play a couple of games, just like a lawyer can’t play a couple games, metaphorically,” Sabatini said. “If you become a member of the Bar, you have not been expelled. You’re still a member of the bar even if you can’t practice law at that particular time.”

Marsh took a 30-minute break before issuing an oral decision that DuPont is ineligible to run.

The judge referred to the five-year requirement for circuit judge candidates and addressed a constitutional requirement that candidates for county judge in counties with less than 40,000 people must be a member of the Bar “in good standing.”

“So this court must look at the difference in the phrase ‘a member of The Florida Bar’ and “a member in good standing.’ It becomes troublesome,” Marsh said.

Marsh rejected Sabatini’s arguments that the county judge “good standing” requirement doesn’t apply to other judicial posts. He said it wouldn’t make sense that there would be stricter standards for county judges than for state Supreme Court justices.

The court “must look for any reasonable interpretation of the words that would give meaning to both member of the Bar of Florida and member in good standing of the Bar of Florida,” Marsh said.

“This court cannot envision a constitution that allows someone not eligible to practice to be OK in the highest court of the state but not OK in our rural county courts. That does not make sense. And there’s no other provision, none cited by defendant DuPont, … that doesn’t lead to that bizarre result.”

Marsh ruled that DuPont would be “constitutionally ineligible to hold office” as judge in January.

“The court takes no position as to, in a subsequent election, whether the voters would choose or not choose Mr. DuPont as their judge,” Marsh said.

In addition, Marsh ordered state and local elections officials to not certify DuPont as a candidate or count any ballots with his name on them. The 7th Circuit comprises St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler and Volusia counties.

“The court is mindful of the momentous event of taking someone off of a ballot. The court takes no pleasure in that, but ultimately, in order for democracies to function appropriately, they must go by the rules of law and the constraints the constitution places over them,” Marsh concluded.

Preddy was appointed to the bench last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis. She filed the lawsuit in April, after a qualifying period in which she and DuPont submitted paperwork to the state Division of Elections and were deemed candidates for the seat. They are the only candidates who qualified.



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