- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A Florida court on Wednesday rejected a bid by a former U.S. congressman and one-time ally of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to get ethics charges dropped against him.

But it’s still unclear if former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, a Miami Republican who is running this year for the state Legislature, will ultimately have to pay the nearly $60,000 in fines and penalties recommended by the state’s ethics commission. Rivera is accused of double-billing taxpayers for travel expenses while he was serving as a state legislator and failing to properly report his income.

The 1st District Court of Appeal “summarily rejected” Rivera’s contention that he was denied due process by the way the Florida Commission on Ethics handled the long-running case that first began in 2010.

But the court did not rule on whether or not current House Speaker Steve Crisafulli can impose the penalty recommended by the ethics panel. Rivera’s attorneys have argued that Crisafulli has no constitutional authority over former House members, but the three judge panel concluded it cannot legally answer that question until the speaker acts.

“We believe this statute will be found unconstitutional,” said Leonard Collins, an attorney representing Rivera. “The court only determined it would not rule on the constitutionality question at this time, but we are pleased it also did not reject our argument. Accordingly, we consider this a significant victory that we will continue to pursue on appeal.”

Kathy Mears, a spokeswoman for Crisafull, said that the speaker is “reviewing the court ruling” but she also noted that commission has not yet officially forwarded its recommendations to the state House.

Rivera was once the powerful budget chief in the Florida House before he was elected to Congress. He was friends with Rubio and the two men owned a home together in Tallahassee for several years.

Rivera served one term in Congress representing a district that stretches from south Miami-Dade County to Key West. He was defeated in 2012 by Joe Garcia. That campaign, however, triggered a federal investigation.

Justin Sternad, a candidate in the race, along with co-defendant Ana Alliegro, eventually admitted scheming to provide more than $80,000 in secret financing to Sternad’s candidacy in the Democratic primary in an attempt to weaken Garcia. They say Rivera - who was identified in prosecution papers as “co-conspirator A” - was ultimately behind the plan, but he has not been charged and he has denied wrongdoing. Alliegro was a one-time close associate of Rivera.

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