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Lawsuit contesting results in Miami-Dade mayor's race won't be heard until October

The lawsuit filed by a defeated candidate contesting last month's results in the Miami-Dade mayor's race won't be heard until October -- after the deadline to set the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election.

That preliminary timeline means that even if County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez, the plaintiff, were to get the court to throw out some or all of the nearly 90,000 absentee ballots cast in the Aug. 14 race, a potential runoff against incumbent Mayor Carlos Gimenez would not be on the general-election ballot. Instead, the court would have to set a special runoff election sometime after Nov. 6.

The county elections department's deadline to draw up the lengthy general-election ballot is Friday. Attorneys for Martinez, Gimenez and the county agreed at a cordial meeting Tuesday afternoon that there is no way to resolve the case by then.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rosa I. Rodriguez said she would like to hold a hearing on the matter in about a month, by mid-October. She did not set a date Tuesday, however, citing a jammed schedule. The judge and attorneys plan to settle on a date soon.

Meantime, the attorneys said they would move to hear the case -- or "consolidate" it -- with a similar lawsuit filed by Property Appraiser Pedro J. Garcia against the candidate who defeated him, state Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

Garcia and Martinez, both represented by attorney Stephen Cody, are asking the court to discard absentee votes, citing ongoing investigations that resulted in the arrests of two suspected Hialeah ballot brokers, known as boleteros. (Two more defeated candidates have sued citing the Hialeah arrests; a third said he would sue over separate absentee-ballot concerns.)

Police have linked 195 absentee ballots to suspected ballot collectors in Hialeah, including the two who have been charged, Deisy Cabrera and Sergio Robaina. Six were seized as part of the investigation and not counted; four were rejected because of faulty signatures.

Cabrera has been charged with one count of voter fraud after police say she forged a terminally ill woman's signature; Robaina has been charged with two counts for allegedly filling out two ballots against the voters' intentions. Both also face minor charges for violating a county ordinance that limits the number of absentee ballots a person can possess.

Kendall Coffey, one of Gimenez's attorneys, noted Tuesday that only 10 of the 195 ballots in question did not count in the election. The remaining 185 were linked to the investigation because they "were simply misdelivered" by boleteros violating a county ordinance, he said.

"That means that the will of the voter was nonetheless expressed," Coffey said.

Cody, however, said the ballots are an indicator of a wider problem. "That is not the disease, but a symptom," he said.

Coffey countered that Cody's claim is "an aspiration" looking for proof. "He hopes he can prove it" by the October hearing, Coffey said of Cody.

Said Cody: "We're not talking about just one or two people. We're talking about an entire industry."

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