Losing Democrat asks Florida judge to block newest Republican lawmaker from seat in Legislature
ORLANDO, Fla. – The losing Democrat in a state House election in South Florida is asking a county judge to block the newest Republican member of the Legislature from holding his seat over a dispute about his residency in the district, as Gov. Ron DeSantis this week led the effort to formally certify the race results.
Voters elected Rep. Michael Redondo, R-Miami, on Dec. 5 by 540 votes in a narrower-than-expected election to represent House District 118. That is a heavily leaning GOP district made up of suburban neighborhoods west of Miami. House leaders have already appointed Redondo to five legislative subcommittees, and he attended two of his first hearings in Tallahassee last week – including a briefing on the governor's budget proposal and discussions on three health-related bills.
The losing Democrat, Johnny Gonzalo Farias, is seeking an injunction in Miami Dade County Court, asking a judge to block Redondo from holding the seat. In court papers filed last week, Farias cited a mortgage agreement Redondo signed in May to buy a nearly $1 million waterfront condominium in nearby House District 113 that required him to live in the property as his primary residence for at least a year beginning within 60 days of signing.
“Voting is the power given to the people by the Constitution,” Farias said in an interview Wednesday. “When candidates deceive voters, in all parties, you must speak up. The voters of District 118 deserve the truth, and the courts and the relevant authorities to settle this matter for the sake of fairness and integrity.”
The legal protest didn't specify whether Farias was asking County Judge Diana Gonzalez-Whyte to set a new election or install Farias as the representative. It said Redondo wasn't qualified to run for or hold the office, and said Redondo registered to vote and voted in the race illegally. "Each vote was rendered upon a candidate not qualified to be placed on the ballot," the injunction request said.
The judge, whose term expires next year, was elected in a nonpartisan race. She is a registered Democrat, according to registration records. This week, she set a preliminary trial schedule that suggested the case wouldn’t be resolved until the summer.
The courtroom fight to overturn the election faces an uphill battle. Under legislative rules, the House has exclusive jurisdiction over the qualifications of its members, including questions about their residency. Including Redondo, Republicans hold 84 seats in the House. Democrats hold 35 seats.
Florida law requires a candidate for a state legislative office to be a resident of the district where they are running when they are elected.
Farias said he doesn’t expect a ruling on the injunction before Florida’s legislative session officially convenes in January, but he was hopeful.
The provision in Redondo's mortgage permits him to live elsewhere but only with written approval in advance from the bank. Redondo said on Dec. 4 he did not know whether he obtained that permission, in writing or otherwise. Such residency clauses are usually imposed by lenders offering a lower interest rate on a mortgage for a person's primary residence than would be available for an investment property.
Redondo, who runs his own law firm, updated his voter registration records and Florida driver's license over the summer to show his address was an apartment he was leasing behind a shopping center in House District 118, where he was running. His federal tax returns filed in August listed Redondo’s home address as the same building where Redondo had purchased the luxury condo in May, about 20 miles away.
A Florida Division of Elections letter dated June 19 mailed to the apartment complex where Redondo said he had leased a unit in House District 118 in June was returned July 5 by the U.S. Postal Service and marked "Return to Sender. Attempted - Not known. Unable to forward."
In November, Redondo paid $12,239 in property taxes on the waterfront condo and listed his address as the condo itself. On records of payments for property taxes at investment properties Redondo owns and rents to others, he listed his home address as the same condo building.
Redondo has stopped responding to calls or texts about the residency issue since it was first reported after polls closed on Dec. 5 by Fresh Take Florida, a news service operated by the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.
In an interview on Dec. 8 with a trade publication, Law.com, Redondo said he had talked with his mortgage lender "and there are no issues with my mortgage or again with any kind of residency requirements or compliance on our end." He added, "We have no concerns."
Redondo did not provide any evidence that his lender, City National Bank, had relieved him of the requirement that he would live in the condo as his primary residence, and a spokesman for the bank, Aaron Gordon, said previously that the bank does not discuss its clients as a matter of policy and privacy.
The mortgage agreement that included the residency requirement was still the most up-to-date version of the document filed Wednesday with the county clerk's office.
The governor formally certified the election results Tuesday. DeSantis and two other top Republican leaders – Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis – briefly certified Redondo as the winner in their roles as members of the Elections Canvassing Commission. All of them met over the phone. DeSantis was in Iowa continuing his presidential campaign.
Separately, the deputy campaign manager for Farias filed a complaint earlier this month with the Florida Commission on Ethics over the race. The complaint accused Redondo of signing a "merely ceremonial lease" for an apartment in House District 118 to qualify as a candidate and lawmaker.
Farias also has filed a complaint against Redondo with the Florida Bar, which regulates the conduct of attorneys in the state.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can donate to support our students here.