JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A judge rules that Duval County Clerk of Courts Jim Fuller cannot seek a fourth term, which makes his Republican opponent the winner of a primary race that is already under way.
Retired Circuit Judge William Wilkes released his ruling Friday morning, three days after hearing arguments Tuesday morning in a lawsuit filed by the city of Jacksonville to enforce the two-term limit approved by Duval County voters in a 1992 referendum and block Fuller from another term.
"Jim Fuller is hereby directed to immediately withdraw his candidacy for Clerk of the Circuit and County Courts," Wilkes wrote in his order.
Fuller, who's been in office since 2001, had said his seat is not term-limited and was protected by the Florida Constitution, but said he would abide by the judge's decision and would not appeal.
Learning of the ruling Friday, Fuller said he was "disappointing in the way you go out, but other than that, I am OK and will go on and do other things."
Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland said he was not surprised by the ruling and that removing Fuller from the ballot makes Ronnie Fussell the winner of the Republican primary without opposition, even though Fuller's name is on absentee ballots already distributed and six days of early voting are complete.
"Basically his name will be on the ballot with Mr Fussell ... but the race has been decided," Holland said. "Whichever way they vote, the outcome will still be the same."
COURT DOCUMENT: Judge's final judgement on City of Jacksonville vs. Jim Fuller
Fussell will face the winner of Tuesday's Democratic race for the post -- either Bill Hodges or Brenda Priestly Jackson -- along with two independent candidates in November's General Election. (Read Duval Clerk of Courts voter's guide)
"I called Ronnie Fussell and I will help him do whatever, if he happens to be the one to get elected, or whoever gets elected," Fuller said. "Whoever wins the clerk's office will have my support and we will help them get transitioned in and the courthouse continues to function for the people in Duval County."
Hodges released a statement applauding the judge's quick ruling in the case.
"I hope that we will be able to move forward knowing that we saved the taxpayers of Duval County the cost of holding a special election," Hodges said. "I always enjoyed working with Jim and his staff and thank him for his long service to the community."
The city cited a recent state Supreme Court ruling that reversed an earlier decision and upheld two-decade old term limits for elected officials in Duval County. Fuller claimed that because clerk of courts is a judicial officer, and term limits on city or county officials don't apply.
The term limits this ruling upheld will also apply to Holland, Sheriff John Rutherford and Property Appraiser Jim Overton, who will not be allowed to seek re-election at the end of their current terms.
Fuller said he was proud of what he accomplished in 12 years as clerk, especially making bringing the Duval County courts into the 21st century, with electronics in the courtroom and e-filing.
Ask if he would ever run for another public office, "I think my wife would say no," Fuller told Channel 4's Jim Piggott. "I will never say never on anything. Things come up that may change my mind, but right now we are continue to look around and see what is out there."
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