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Posted on September 18, 2016
To be eligible to run for the Tallahassee City Commission you must sign an oath that states, in part, that you are “a resident and qualified elector in the City of Tallahassee”
The recent filing of local government activist and businessman Dr. Erwin Jackson with Florida’s Second Judicial Circuit Court challenges the City of Tallahassee oath signed by city commission candidate Scott Maddox on June 23rd, 2016.
The filing can be reviewed here.
City commission candidate Scott Maddox, when he signed the oath, stated he lived in the City of Tallahassee.
In his court filing, Dr. Erwin Jackson provides evidence he believes demonstrates Mr. Maddox does not live in the City of Tallahassee.
What do past court decisions have to say about this controversy?
A 1955 Florida Supreme Court case, which was recently cited in opinions on the subject, indicate that the term “legal residence” has two components-intent and fact.
In other words, to establish legal residence, a person must have a “good faith intention” to reside in a particular place, coupled with “positive overt acts” that demonstrate that intention.
What are “positive overt acts”?
The Florida Department of Elections provided a broad answer to this question in a 1993 opinion.
In that opinion, legal residence is determined by looking to where a person intends to make a home permanent and to whether factual evidence exists to corroborate that intent. In making this determination, no single piece of evidence, such as homestead exemption, is decisive.
Based on this opinion, the establishment of legal residence depends on a variety of acts or declarations, all of which must be considered and weighed on a case-by-case basis.
Examples of evidence which may be considered in determining whether legal residency has been established includes driver’s license, tax receipts, mail receipts, bank accounts, the relocation of personal effects, and the purchase or rental of property.
In 1981, the Florida District Court of Appeals concluded the determination of legal residence is fact-intensive and turns on the particular circumstances of each individual case. Specifically the DCA wrote “[E]stablishment of one’s residence will usually depend on a variety of acts or declarations all of which must be weighed in the particular case as evidence would be weighed upon any other subject.”
What does all of this information tell us about the current controversy?
First, it is clear that burden falls on the one challenging the claim of residency, in this case Dr. Jackson.
Second, the law indicates that while intent of the candidate is an important component of residency, facts must support the intent.
Mr. Maddox has stated his intention is to live within the City boundaries, however, the facts are not without questions.
For example, public information indicates Mr. Maddox changed his driver’s license address to reflect his city address, which supports his intent. However, it appears no one else in his family changed their driver’s license to the city address.
Also, Mr. Maddox removed the homestead exemption on his home outside the City of Tallahassee, but information indicates he does not have a formal lease on the home he claims as his legal residence.
Dr. Jackson and his lawyer believe the weight of the evidence detailed in the court filing overwhelms the actions Mr. Maddox took to support his intent.
Mr. Maddox believes his intent with certain “overt actions” will carry the day.
Experts told TR there are a number of factors that make this case interesting.
First, rarely do citizens choose to file such an action in circuit court. Courts are intimidating and expensive for the average citizen. So seldom have courts had to rule on residency claims.
Second, when citizens do choose to file an action, a lot of times the filing is amateurish. A lawyer told TR that a review of the Jackson filing, which lists CB Upton as Jackson’s attorney, is “clearly a professional document.”
And finally, in cases like these, the judge has tremendous leeway in making a decision and that is what will make the process so unpredictable.
Based on court rules, Mr. Maddox has ten days to respond to the filing.