Ex-Judge Faces Challenge to Election Bid

TALLAHASSEE — A Leon County circuit judge will hear arguments this month in a dispute about whether a Northeast Florida judicial candidate should appear on the ballot after being suspended from practicing law and getting removed from the bench in the past.

Judge J. Lee Marsh has scheduled a hearing May 29 in a lawsuit that contends Scott DuPont is ineligible to run this year for a judgeship in the 7th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler and Volusia counties.

DuPont’s opponent, Rose Marie Preddy, who was appointed last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis as a judge in the 7th Circuit, filed the lawsuit in April after a candidate qualifying period. DuPont submitted paperwork to the state Division of Elections and was deemed a candidate.

The lawsuit contends that DuPont does not meet a constitutional qualification 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.”

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Preddy, represented by high-profile Tallahassee attorneys Daniel Nordby and Barry Richard, argues that DuPont does not meet the five-year requirement because he was suspended from practicing law by the Florida Supreme Court in October 2019 and reinstated in June 2020. The suspension came after the Supreme Court removed DuPont as a circuit judge in 2018 because of improper conduct.

“A lawyer who has been suspended from the practice of law has not had the ‘privilege’ of practicing law during the period of the suspension, and therefore is not ‘a member of the bar of Florida’ during that same time,” the lawsuit said.

DuPont, represented by attorney Anthony Sabatini, a former state House member from Lake County, denied the allegations in a filing late Friday, though the filing did not provide detailed arguments.

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The May 29 hearing will come less than three months before an Aug. 20 primary election when the race would be decided. DuPont and Preddy were the only two candidates who filed qualifying paperwork to run for the seat.

The Supreme Court removed DuPont from the bench in 2018 after an investigation that, in part, focused on allegations that DuPont spread false information about his 2016 election opponent. The Supreme Court suspended DuPont from practicing law in October 2019 after he reached an agreement with The Florida Bar.

The agreement called for a 91-day suspension, but the Supreme Court did not reinstate DuPont until June 2020, according to documents included with the lawsuit.

In addition to DuPont, the lawsuit names as defendants the state Division of Elections and the elections supervisors in the four counties in the circuit.

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