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Sunday, Nov 23, 2014

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AG candidate Sheldon set to defend residency challenge on Friday


Published:

The argument has a ring of quantum physics to it, where a subatomic particle can be in two places at the same time.

George Sheldon, Democratic candidate for attorney general, says he was a Florida resident who at the same time enjoyed a “nonresident” exception from having to take required Bar classes, according to court documents.

Sheldon is facing a suit to knock him off the ballot; a Tallahassee judge will hear the case Friday. The primary election is Aug. 26, less than two weeks away.

Here’s the backstory:

Sheldon’s candidacy is being challenged by a Miami lawyer who says he’s ineligible to hold office because he did not live in Florida for seven years before election, as the state constitution requires.

Never mind, for now, the fact that he’s not elected yet. He could be, says plaintiff Jessica Elliott, which means he’ll then be potentially “subject to a successful post-election contest.”

Sheldon lived in Washington, D.C., from 2011-13 while working as acting assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The nub of the case against him is a “nonresident exemption” he received from taking continuing legal education classes, or CLEs, required by The Florida Bar to maintain one’s law license.

Last month, “I was informed by The Florida Bar that I qualified for an exemption from the (CLE) requirement as a nonresident member because of my tenure in Washington, D.C.,” Sheldon said in a declaration filed with the court.

“I was told that the exemption applied even though my residency remained in Florida,” Sheldon added.

His court filings also include an affidavit from Michelle Francis, the Bar’s education compliance manager.

“… Notwithstanding that Sheldon may have remained a permanent resident of the state of Florida, during the time that he maintained an official Florida Bar mailing address out of state, he was entitled to claim a (CLE) exemption” because he wasn’t actively practicing law in Florida, she said.

He’s since posted the 30 hours of credit for his CLE reporting cycle, she added, and is a lawyer in good standing.

Sheldon has said he never intended to give up his Florida residency: He didn’t change his Florida voter registration, driver’s license, automobile registration or homestead exemption while he was in Washington.

Court dockets show the case will be heard by Circuit Judge James Hankinson, a former federal and state prosecutor who’s been on the bench since 2002.

Sheldon, 67, grew up in Plant City. He formerly served as head of the state Department of Children and Families and was a deputy attorney general under Democrat Bob Butterworth.

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