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Sarasota Judge Strikes Down Term-Limit Referendum

Deadline looms for ballot printing and distribution.

At an emergency hearing Monday, a Sarasota circuit judge squashed the language for a January referendum on county commission term limits.

Judge Jack Schoonover called the ballot summary “very deficient.”

The supervisor of elections needs the ballot language by 5 p.m. on Tuesday to meet deadlines for printing and distribution. The Florida Legislature earlier this year extended the time-line to allow people overseas time to receive, complete and return their absentee ballots.

Under state law, must be clear and concise. The county commission-proposed change to the charter actually hinged on a pending decision by the Florida Supreme Court on a case governing the constitutionality of term limits.

In 1998 Sarasota County voters overwhelmingly approved a two-term limit for county commissioners. But the result was voided by a county judge and has never been enforced. A recent state appeals court ruling said term limits were constitutional, and that case is now headed to the state supreme court.

The language struck down by Schoonover would have extended the restriction to three terms. County Commissioner Jon Thaxton is in an uncertain position because – if term limits are upheld – he cannot continue to run for re-election.

The emergency . The group’s attorney Andrea Mogensen argued the language was unclear, and Schoonover agreed.

When special council to Sarasota County, Frederick Elbrecht, asked Schoonover what was unclear, the judge declined to answer. “It’s not a judge’s job to write ballot language,” said Mogensen.

Elbrecht wanted to know, because the county commission meets Tuesday afternoon, and might amend the ballot language more to Schoonover’s liking. But without the judge’s guidance, Elbrecht will need to speculate.

Mogensen said any last-minute change to the ballot would run afoul of state law, which requires public notice for ballot language before it can be formally adopted.

Cathy Antunes, one of the petitioners, said, “It’s really nice to win one.” 

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