A conservative group in Florida has filed suit to prevent a county clerk from handing out same-sex marriage licenses on January 6, arguing that the expiration of the ban on same-sex marriage applies to only one county in the state, the New Times Broward-Palm Beach reports.
Three officials have been named in the suit filed by an organization named Florida Family Action: Mayor Budd Dyer, County Clerk of Court Armando Ramirez, and Circuit Judge Robert LeBlanc.
Both Ramirez and Dyer have publicly stated intentions to issue marriage licenses in Osceola County at midnight on January 6, despite the fact that a law firm for the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers sent out a memo stating that issuing same-sex marriage licenses outside Washington County would count as a misdemeanor, which could result in a punishment of a year in jail.
“I will open the office for 2 hours as a symbolic jester [sic] to the gay community…to be able to be legally married,” Ramirez said. “We won’t waste any time.” Judge LeBlanc has said that he will officiate.
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John Stemberger, president of Florida Family Action, was quick to respond with a lawsuit.
“All three of these officials have shown great contempt and disrespect for the rule of law and are behaving irresponsibly and unprofessionally,” said John Stemberger. “The federal court decision is clear that it only applies narrowly to the two plaintiffs and only in Washington County.”
“Unless this Court immediately intervenes prior to 12:01 a.m. on January 6, 2015, the Osceola Clerk has indicated publicly and unequivocally that he will abandon and abrogate his constitutionally-sworn duty to follow and uphold the laws and constitution of Florida,” the lawsuit filed by Florida Family Action states.
Prior to the clerk controversy, Judge Robert Hinkle struck down the ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional in Washington County and asked the state to make a determination as to whether county clerks can issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. As of Tuesday, Florida placed the ball back in Hinkle’s court. It’s now up to Hinkle to decide if the overturned ban applies just to Washington County or to the entire state.
Osceola County Clerk of Court Armando Ramirez has had a troubled history. Earlier this year in July, Ramirez’s former staff lawyer sued him for “routinely destroying public records, misusing public funds, falsifying payroll and improperly hiring relatives.” Ramirez naturally denied the allegations as preposterous and derided them as nothing more than the work of a disgruntled former employee. In March 2013, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Ramirez owed the Deutsche Bank National Trust Co. $205,000 dollars in addition to like legal fees after the bank filed papers looking to foreclosure on Ramirez’s property. Ramirez voluntarily gave up the property after not making any payments.
In 2009, he faced another foreclosure action and ended up having to sell the property in October of that same year, reflecting a history of financial trouble.
More recently, in 2014, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement conducted an in-depth investigation of Ramirez after serious complaints of breaching public-records law.
“[I]t would appear the only reason criminal charges weren’t filed is because there wasn’t sufficient evidence to move forward,” a letter from the First Amendment Foundation stated in regards to the investigation.
“Frankly, we find the recent controversy surrounding your office to be disturbing,” the letter added.
The legal situation surrounding same-sex marriage licenses in the interim period is unclear, which is why the majority of Florida clerks are abstaining from handing out marriage licenses until further determinations are made.
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