AG Democratic Candidate Sheldon Fends Off Residency, Bar Membership Challenges

Aug 5, 2014

Sheldon
Credit Matthew Stolpe / WFSU News

Democratic Attorney General Candidate George Sheldon is trying to fend off challenges to his eligibility. Complaints say Sheldon, who most recently served in the Obama Administration, can’t claim Florida residency.

In addition to residing in Florida for the past seven years leading up to election, Florida’s Constitution also requires Attorney General Candidates to be members of the Florida bar for the preceding five years.  One of Sheldon’s opponent’s in the race, the former Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t qualify for the ballot because he didn’t maintain continuing education requirements for Bar membership:

The Supreme Court rules if the attorney doesn’t CER requirement, it’s the same as if they had not paid dues or are disqualified for some other reason," says Libertarian Attorney General Candidate Bill Wohlsifer  who filed one of the complaints against Sheldon’s qualifications.

Wohlsifer, also an attorney, says Sheldon didn’t meet the rules set forth by the Florida bar, because during the time Sheldon lived and worked in Washington—he didn’t complete continuing education requirements.

“It’s not about residency, it’s about are you practicing law and if so, you need to maintain the duties of Bar membership. If you’re not practicing law, then you’re not entitled to the benefits and priveleges of bar membership, ad you sort of have a leave of absence.”

But Sheldon is defending both his residency status and his Bar membership. The candidate says his license was in temporary delinquency and he was given 30 days to fix it.  Sheldon says that doesn’t mean he was not a member of the Bar during that time.

“The bar considers your residence where you’re working. You file a mail address and a physical address was Tallahassee Florida. There’s a distinction between legal residence and physical residence for the Florida Bar.”  

Whether Sheldon qualifies could depend on how residency is defined. There is one definition for state purposes, and another for membership in the Bar. And it is possible, Sheldon says, that he meets both sets of rules. Furthermore, Sheldon’s attorney, Ron Meyer, says Sheldon should stay on the ballot—because his membership never lapsed.

“There are many categories of membership of the Florida Bar," says Meyer. "The fact he was in Washington for a number of years working can excuse him from taking some continuing legal education credits, but it doesn’t change the fact he’s a member of the Florida Bar.” 

Furthermore, Meyer says the fact Sheldon worked in Washington D.C. for two years doesn’t mean he gave up his Florida residency. Sheldon says he believes the challenges are purely political.   

“It’s that time of year when these kind of diversions are brought up, but it goes with the territory," he says.

Wohlsifer has filed his challenge against Sheldon’s candidacy with the elections commission. It will be up to that group to decide whether Sheldon remains on the ballot. If so, he will face fellow Democrat, Representative Perry Thurston. Voters will decide whether Thurston or Sheldon will be the Democratic nominee. Wohlsifer, the only Libertarian in the race, already has a spot on the ballot to face current Attorney General Pam Bondi in November.