Ex-Judge Appeals Candidacy Ruling

TALLAHASSEE — A former Northeast Florida circuit judge is appealing a decision that blocked him from running this year for a judicial seat because of a past suspension from practicing law.

An attorney for Scott DuPont filed a notice of appeal last week after Leon County Circuit Judge J. Lee Marsh ruled that DuPont was ineligible to run for judge in the 7th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler and Volusia counties.

The notice of appeal, posted Monday on the Leon County clerk of court’s website, does not detail arguments that DuPont’s attorney, former state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, will make at the 1st District Court of Appeal.

DuPont and Circuit Judge Rose Marie Preddy qualified in April to run for the seat, but Preddy quickly filed a lawsuit challenging DuPont’s candidacy. The challenge was rooted in a decision by the Florida Supreme Court to suspend DuPoint from practicing law in October 2019. DuPont was reinstated in June 2020.

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Preddy’s attorneys said the suspension made DuPont ineligible to run this year because of a constitutional requirement that 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.

During a hearing last week, Sabatini contended that DuPont was 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.”

But Marsh ruled that DuPont would be constitutionally ineligible to serve as a judge in January. He ordered state and local elections officials to not certify DuPont as a candidate or count ballots with his name on them.

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“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 said.

A written order had not been posted on the clerk of court’s website as of Tuesday morning.

DuPont was suspended from practicing law 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.

Preddy was appointed to the bench last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

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