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Judge moves up trial in Miami-Dade elections cases

The trial in a pair of lawsuits asking the courts to throw out absentee ballots cast in two Miami-Dade election contests has been moved up to October.

On Wednesday, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rosa I. Rodriguez signed an order scheduling the trial for Oct. 19. She had first proposed Nov. 5 -- the day before the general election. The judge changed the date Tuesday, after attorneys for Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Property Appraiser-elect Carlos Lopez-Cantera objected to pushing back the trial to November.

The trial had originally been scheduled to begin this week, but it was postponed after the attorney for Commission Chairman Joe Martinez and incumbent Property Appraiser Pedro J. Garcia withdrew last week, citing an undisclosed conflict of interest.

Martinez and Garcia, who filed the parallel lawsuits that will be tried together, now have until next Monday to hire new attorneys.

The two elected officials sued after the Aug. 14 primary, suggesting potential voter fraud following an ongoing Hialeah absentee-ballot investigation. Both are asking that absentee-ballot results be thrown out. If that were the case, Martinez's race would have gone to a runoff against Gimenez, and Garcia would have defeated Lopez-Cantera outright.

A third lawsuit filed by a defeated candidate -- also citing absentee concerns -- has been dropped. Legislative candidate Paul Crespo voluntarily dismissed his complaint Tuesday.

A fourth defeated candidate, Alex Jimenez Labora, who ran for a judicial seat, dropped his similar lawsuit last week.