EATONVILLE, Fla. – More than a month after a circuit court judge overturned the results of a 2020 Eatonville town council election due to “illegal” votes, the candidate who was declared the new winner has still not begun serving in the position.
“I had an idea they would try to do anything possible to stop me from taking that seat, and I think that’s what they continue to try to do,” said Marlin Daniels, the declared winner.
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Daniels claims some town officials refused to recognize him as a council member while reportedly waiting for clarification on the judge’s ruling.
He said he was barred from serving as a council member during the last council meeting in November and instead attended as a member of the public.
Unlike other council members, Daniels said he has not received briefing documents on town business nor received an official town email account.
A photograph of Tarus Mack, Daniels’s political opponent who was “ousted” from the town council seat by the judge, remained on the Town of Eatonville’s official website as of Monday.
Eatonville’s town attorney indicated that Daniels could be sworn in as council member during the next town council meeting Tuesday night, but Daniels remains skeptical.
“An oath is just ceremonial,” Daniels said. “I should be doing the will of the people right now.”
In March 2020, Eatonville voters went to the polls to decide whether Mack should retain his seat on the town council or be replaced by Daniels.
After the voting results were tallied, it appeared Daniels had defeated the incumbent by a single vote.
But following a recount by the Orange County Canvassing Board, court records show two previously uncounted votes were discovered, giving Mack a 269-to-268 vote victory.
Weeks after Mack was certified as the winner of the election, Daniels filed a lawsuit in Orange County circuit court alleging voting irregularities.
Following a non-jury trial in October, Judge Kevin Weiss concluded Mack received an “illegal vote” from someone using the name of a citizen who later testified in court that he never voted in the election.
A second vote for Mack was illegally procured, according to the judge, because a resident testified to feeling pressured by his landlord to vote for Mack or risk eviction.
By excluding those two votes, the judge declared Daniels the winner.
“Daniels is therefore entitled to election to Seat 4 of the Eatonville Town Council,” Judge Weiss wrote in a final judgment October 26. “Mack shall be and hereby is ousted from Seat 4 of the Eatonville Town Council.”
Following that ruling, Daniels believes he should have been officially recognized as council member.
“The way Eatonville is set up, at the next council meeting, the next person would be sworn in as the town council member,” Daniels said. “It did not (happen).”
About a week before that Nov. 16 town council meeting, Eatonville town attorney Dean F. Mosely wrote a legal advisory stating that nothing should happen regarding the town council seat until Judge Weiss held a case management conference in December.
“This is potentially new law being made here in Eatonville, so let the Judge direct us,” Mosely wrote.
Christian W. Waugh, Daniels’s attorney, disagreed with Mosely’s interpretation of the judge’s order.
“They should have followed that judgement and Marlin should have been sworn in,” Waugh said. “It’s politics. It’s politics subverting the will of the people. And it’s exactly why we filed the lawsuit in the first place.”
Daniels sat in the public gallery during the Nov. 16 town council meeting and addressed the council during time set aside for citizen participation.
“I’m going to stay positive tonight,” Daniels told them. “With this whole thing, a delay is not a denial.”
During a Dec. 1 case management conference, Judge Weiss reiterated his position that Daniels won the election.
“The court-ordered parties (are) to adhere to the final court judgment,” records from the hearing show.
Following that conference, Mosely indicated that Daniels would be allowed to serve as council member at the next town council meeting unless a judge or a state election official intervened.
“I am unaware of any obstacle to Marlin Daniels being seated as Councilman for position 4 at this moment,” Mosely told News 6 early Monday.
Later that day, Judge Weiss issued a new order in the case.
“Absent a stay granted by this Court or by an appellate court, the Court expects that the Final Judgment should be complied with and that it should have been followed from the day it was issued,” Weiss wrote.
Eatonville Mayor Eddie Cole said he expected Daniels to take office during the Dec. 7 town council meeting.
“He’s such a guy of integrity,” Cole said. “I look forward to working with him.”
As Daniels awaits that meeting, his political opponent has filed an appeal with the fifth district court of appeal in hopes of overturning the circuit court judge’s ruling.
Mack has also asked Judge Weiss to issue a stay as the appeal is pending. Weiss has not ruled on that request.
News 6 was unable to reach Mack for comment, but his attorney provided a brief statement.
“The transcript of the trial is filed with the Orange County Clerk,” said Matthew Leibert, Mack’s lawyer. “It is there for everyone to read.”