By JIM SAUNDERS
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
A federal judge Tuesday rejected arguments by Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Adrian Wyllie that he should be allowed to take part in a debate Wednesday night with Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic challenger Charlie Crist.
U.S. District Judge James Cohn, in a six-page ruling, refused to grant a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction that would have required debate organizers to allow Wyllie into the televised debate.
Cohn wrote that Wyllie and his campaign "have not shown a substantial likelihood of success on any of their claims, so they are not entitled to the requested temporary relief."
The judge sided with the Florida Press Association and Leadership Florida, which have been planning the debate for more than a year. Also, he ruled in favor of Broward College, which will host the event. The debate will start at 7 p.m. Wednesday and is expected to be televised in all of the state's media markets.
The organizers set criteria for candidates to be allowed into the debate, including a requirement they receive support from 15 percent of voters in a September poll. Wyllie did not meet that threshold, though he has drawn enough support in polls to be considered a wild card in the closely contested race between Scott and Crist.
Wyllie contended, in part, that he had been led to believe that he could qualify for the debate by polling at 12 percent, factoring in a 4 percent margin or error. But Cohn flatly rejected that argument, saying organizers made clear the 15 percent threshold more than a year ago.
"(No) evidence shows that (the organizing groups) willfully caused Wyllie to believe that he could appear at the October 15 debate if he polled at just 12 percent,'' the judge wrote. "(The groups) first announced the October 15 debate in a press release dated August 20, 2013 --- well over a year ago. That announcement stated that debate participants would have to meet a 15-percent polling threshold."
In a statement released Tuesday evening through the office of his attorney, Luke Lirot, Wyllie expressed disappointment in the judge's decision.
"For too long, the Republican-Democrat 'duopoly' has controlled the conversation, and they have used their power to silence the competition,'' Wyllie said. "Their attempts to exclude me from the debates is just another example. The people of Florida are demanding a third choice, and this decision is an injustice to those millions of Florida voters crying out for fairness and for their voice to be heard."
In seeking a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction, Wyllie's attorneys argued that the debate sponsors and the college showed bias in their decision-making. But the organizers disputed that in a court document filed Monday.
"Plaintiffs cannot establish, and have not alleged, that the debate partners are excluding Mr. Wyllie from participation in the debate based on his political views,'' the document said. "The debate partners have selected a threshold and applied it evenly to all candidates, without consideration of a candidate's party or non-party affiliation."