Pasco School Board candidate Hernandez can stay on ballot, appeals court rules

Pasco County School Board candidate Al Hernandez can remain on Tuesday’s ballot despite a court dispute about whether he met residency requirements when he entered the race.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal, in a ruling issued Friday, found that the Pasco County Circuit Court erred when it disqualified Hernandez in October.

Hernandez had purchased a house in Zephyrhills, inside the east Pasco district, and said he was trying to move into it by the June qualifying deadline. But the house needed renovations and there were delays in getting the work completed.

“The court overemphasized the fact that Mr. Hernandez had not moved into the Zephyrhills residence or regularly spent the night there before or during the qualifying period,” the appellate justices wrote.

The appeals court ruled last week that Hernandez could be placed back on the ballot while the issue was in doubt, but Friday’s ruling settled the case with four days left to vote.

The District 1 election, which began with three candidates, is headed to a runoff between Hernandez, a Humana executive backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, and James Washington, a Pasco High School graduation enhancement teacher.

A third candidate, Stephen Meisman, lost in the August primary. A week earlier, Meisman filed a lawsuit seeking to have Hernandez removed from the ballot because he did not live in the district he was seeking to represent at the time of qualifying, as required by state law.

“Mr. Hernandez spent the night in the Zephyrhills home, but found the home to be inhospitable due to moisture or mold issues,” the appellate ruling said.

“In May, Mr. Hernandez updated his driver’s license and voter’s registration to reflect that the Zephyrhills home was his residence. He submitted his paperwork to the supervisor of elections on May 31, 2022, and listed his Zephyrhills address as his residence.”

Hernandez could not be reached for comment Friday. Meisman said he was disappointed in the ruling, but eager to put the matter behind him and move on with his life.

“All I did was my best. I had to finish what I started,” said Meisman, who owns an aircraft tooling and design business. “The campaign was fun. But the lawsuit was hell.”