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Broward school board candidate files lawsuit challenging her opponent's eligibility to hold office

BROWARD_SchoolBoard_JoseAIglesias_MH.jpeg
Jose A Iglesias / Miami Herald
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Dr. Vickie Cartwright answers questions from members of the Broward County School Board during a board meeting to pick the next superintendent on Feb. 9, 2022.

A Broward County School Board candidate has filed a lawsuit challenging her opponent’s eligibility to hold elected office because of a felony conviction — urging a judge to step in to ensure that the voters’ representative is legally able to carry out his duties.

In a petition filed on Nov. 14, Marie Murray Martin asked a judge to prevent certifying the election results of her opponent Rod Velez and to bar him from taking office — unless he can demonstrate his eligibility.

“[Velez’s] disregard for the law deceived voters and usurped the election process,” Martin wrote in her petition. “Elections should be transparent, accountable and have fair processes. If [he] is able to move forward as though nothing illegal occurred, future elections throughout the state of Florida will be inundated with ineligible candidates at great cost to the voters, taxpayers, courts and local communities.”

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Velez — a property manager and a father of two school-age kids — won 52% of the vote in the race to represent District 1, according to unofficial results.

Martin — a teacher in the district who ran to take the seat that had been held by her mother, former Board Member Ann Murray — carried 47% of the vote.

But it’s unclear if Velez can legally be sworn into office next week because he was convicted of a felony.

In 1995, Velez pleaded guilty to aggravated battery, a second-degree felony that revoked his right to vote and hold elected office. That is, until Amendment 4 was passed in 2018, restoring the right to vote for Floridians convicted of most felonies, so long as they served their time and paid any associated fines and fees.

But in order to regain the right to hold elected office, returning citizens must submit an application to the state Office of Executive Clemency. As of 1:30 pm on Thursday, the state's database shows no record that Velez’s civil rights have been restored. The website does not show the status of pending cases.

Velez did not respond to questions from WLRN by the deadline for this story. According to reporting by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Velez is fighting to regain his civil rights, but hasn't fully restored them yet.

“Until Mr. Velez produces his clemency, it is not over,” Martin told WLRN before filing the lawsuit challenging Velez’s eligibility.

“He has to produce a clemency affidavit or some type of civil rights restoration document,” she said. “He has got to show us that he has his civil rights and his clemency.”

As of 1:30 pm on Thursday, an online court docket did not show any hearings scheduled in the case. No attorney was listed for Velez; Martin is representing herself in the matter.

The Broward Supervisor of Elections is scheduled to certify the election results at a meeting on Friday, Nov. 18, at 3 p.m. Velez and the other new board members are expected to be sworn in next Tuesday, Nov. 22.

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter