TALLAHASSEE — George Sheldon can remain on the ballot as a Democratic candidate for attorney general, a Tallahassee judge ruled Friday.
Sheldon’s Florida residency had been challenged because he lived and worked in Washington, D.C., for two years as an Obama administration official. He owns a home in Tallahassee.
After a two-hour hearing, Chief Circuit Judge Charles Francis decided Sheldon’s professional sojourn out of state didn’t disqualify him for holding office if elected.
“People can work out of state ... but their home is right here,” Francis said.
Miami lawyer Jessica Elliott had challenged Sheldon’s residency. She did not attend Friday’s hearing and her attorney, Johnny L. McCray, Jr. of Pompano Beach, said he did not know whether she will appeal.
Sheldon, who testified on his own behalf, later tweeted, “Very happy that Judge Francis has put the residency issue to rest so we can focus on the urgent issues facing the people of Florida.”
Elliott sued last month, saying Sheldon did not live in Florida for the entire seven years before election, as required by the state constitution.
Sheldon also let a continuing education requirement lapse, which inactivated his Florida Bar license.
That violated another constitutional requirement, Elliott said in court filings, that the attorney general “must have been a member of the bar of Florida for the preceding five years.”
McCray argued that the lapse essentially made Sheldon a “non-lawyer,” if only for a brief time.
Francis disagreed, saying Sheldon was still a “member” of the Bar, even if he temporarily couldn’t practice law.
Sheldon’s attorney, Ronald Meyer of Tallahassee, also showed that Sheldon did not intend to give up his Florida residency. His client never changed his voter registration, driver’s license or Florida homestead exemption, he said.
Sheldon, 67, grew up in Plant City. He previously served as head of the state Department of Children and Families and was a deputy attorney general under Democrat Bob Butterworth.
In 2011-13, he lived in Washington while the acting assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Friday’s ruling means Democratic primary voters will still be able to decide between Sheldon and fellow candidate Perry Thurston, a state representative from Broward County.
The winner will face incumbent Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi and Libertarian candidate Bill Wohlsifer, a Tallahassee lawyer.