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Hearing in the case of Joe Saunders v. Moe Saunders

A final hearing is now set on whether Maureen Saunders Scottaunt of former Rep. Joe Saundersmay run against him under the name “Moe Saunders” for a seat in the House representing northeast Miami-Dade County.

Assess Robert T. Watson of the 11th Judicial Circuit scheduled the hearing for August 1.

In a order Outlining a final evidentiary hearing, an expedited discovery schedule and deadlines for the case’s three defendants, including Scott, to respond, Watson said he is “aware” of the Aug. 20 Primary and potential appeals.

Saunders, a Democrat, filed suit late last month against Scott, a nonpartisan candidate who lives in St. Johns County, over what he said is a “clear violation of Florida law.” Secretary of State Cord Byrd and Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Christina White are also defendants in the case.

Florida lawmakers last year passed one sweeping electoral law that, among other things, stipulates that candidates who wish to run under a nickname must submit a separate affidavit requesting the change. The relatively new law provides that the nickname “must not be used to mislead voters“, and candidates are precluded from using a moniker “that implies that the candidate is any other person.”

Saunders’ suit claims that “Moe Saunders” meets both of these standards.

Scott must respond to the lawsuit by July 18. Byrd and White must do so by July 25.

Scott originally applied to drive under her legal name. The similarity between her name and Saunders raised questions even then local citizen journalists and media on whether a “ghost candidate” ran in House District 106.

The Elections Department approved a request to change her name on the ballot to “Moe Saunders” — a different spelling from Joe Saunders — on June 13. Florida Politics was first to report switch, identifying Scott as Saunders’ aunt and finding Scott’s X account, from which she accused Saunders of trying to silence her about abuse she said she suffered at the hands of a family member. It also showed her interacting with the incumbent in HD 106, Miami Beach Republican Rep. Fabian Basabewho told Florida Politics he sympathizes with Scott but had no hand in her candidacy.

Scott has since said she believes neither Saunders nor Basabe should serve in elected office, citing her personal history with Saunders and Basabe’s voting record.

Moe + Joe = bad mojo. Image via Florida Division of Elections.

She told Florida Politics this week that the only help she got to change her name on the ballot was from staff at the Miami-Dade Clerk’s Office. The County Clerk is a Republican Juan Fernandez-Barquina former representative as Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed to work six months after the clerk’s death Harvey Ruvin.

State records show Saunders, who served one term in the House representing Orlando from 2012-2014, raised more than $290,000 this cycle for the HD 106 race. Miami Beach Property Appraiser records show he has owned a one-bedroom apartment in Miami Beach since April 2021.

Basabe had close to $319,000 in his war chest. Of that, $250,000 was self-borrowed. He faces a lone Primary challenger in attorney and former congressional hopeful Melinda Almontewhose campaign lists an address in St. Petersburg and reported raising $24,000, 96% of which was self-loaned.

Scott, meanwhile, added $1,800 to her campaign through the end of last month, all from her bank account. In a post July 8 to Facebookshe said she sought pro bono legal assistance for her trial defense from several nonprofits, including Equality Florida, which hires Saunders as senior political director.

She told Florida Politics that as of late Wednesday, neither group has offered to help her.

The hearing on August 1 is set for 10 a.m. in Room 8-1 of the Miami-Dade Courthouse on West Flagler Street.

Watson’s ruling could inform other ballot renaming disputes in Florida, including one in St. Petersburg regarding a city council candidate’s attempt to run under his business name Juan Lopez Estevez and another in Miami-Dade, where the county mayoral candidate Miguel Quintero suing the county and state for the removal of his nickname, “el Skipper.”

Florida Politics has repeatedly requested an explanation from the Department of State as to why Scott’s name change was approved. The only remotely substantial response came on June 21 from the department’s spokesman Mark Ardwho shared a link to state law which prohibits voter-confusing nicknames.

Florida Politics cited the law in questions sent to Ard, who has not responded to follow-up questions.

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