Candidate must face questions about oathBy LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief
© St. Petersburg Times
TALLAHASSEE -- Environmentalist Mary L. Barley will have to answer questions about the loyalty oath submitted with her paperwork when she became a Democratic candidate for state agriculture commissioner.
A lawsuit alleges that Barley's paperwork was signed by someone else and does not comply with state campaign laws.
Circuit Judge Janet Ferris said Friday that Barley must respond to questions by Tuesday and be ready for a trial by Friday. The lawsuit was filed by Manly Bolin, a Columbia County firefighter, in an effort to force Barley's removal from the ballot.
Bolin is an official in a professional firefighters' union, which has endorsed the incumbent, Republican Charlie Bronson.
Bill Bryant, the Tallahassee attorney who represents Bolin, said Friday that he will dismiss the lawsuit if Barley says under oath that she signed the loyalty oath.
Bryant says he is ready to bring in a handwriting expert who will say that the signature on the oath is not Barley's.
If Barley invokes her right against self-incrimination or says she didn't sign the document, but authorized someone else to sign, it will be up to the court to determine whether she remains on the ballot.
Barley told the St. Petersburg Times editorial board that she did sign the form. A clerk in the state elections office says the form was initially missing from paperwork submitted by political consultant Joe Garcia, but it was produced by Garcia shortly after she noted the absence of an essential document.
Thom Rumberger, the lawyer who represents Barley, has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit saying Bolin had no legal right to file it.
"I don't know the answer to the pivotal question," Rumberger said. "I don't know if she insists she did sign or authorized someone else to sign. ... It doesn't resolve my main concern about whether this guy can come out of the woodwork and challenge her."
Rumberger said he thinks it is too late to remove Barley from the Sept. 10 ballot because it would cause "confusion and disturbance" and create an unwarranted election disruption. Garcia, Barley's political consultant, said last week that he watched Barley sign the document, but when asked about it again this week Garcia had no comment. The document bears Barley's signature and address in Islamorada but Garcia's Bal Harbour ZIP code. Garcia also declined to discuss the ZIP code, referring questions to Rumberger.
One of Barley's primary opponents, Winter Park veterinarian Andrew "Dr. Andy" Michaud, condemned the lawsuit and defended Barley. "She is a legitimate candidate and has a message, and it would be wrong to remove her on a technicality," Michaud said.
The other candidate in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary, Miami schoolteacher David Nelson, said he had no real position on the suit. "I don't know -- sitting?" he said, laughing.
-- Times staff writer Craig Pittman contributed to this story.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times state desk
From the state wire