JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - In his final days as Duval County Clerk of Courts, Jim Fuller gave 30 employees big raises and went on a $140,000 spending spree, according to new Clerk Ronnie Fussell.
Fussell said that in addition to the $200,000 in raises and buying iPads and other equipment outside of normal city purchasing procedures, Fuller also authorized $46,000 of taxpayer money to pay attorney fees from his legal fight to seek a fourth term as clerk -- a battle he lost.
Fussell made the revelations Friday after a 30-day review of the office that administers Duval County's criminal and civil courts.
"Whether it was illegal, I doubt it. Inappropriate? Yes. Unethical? Yes, especially without making me aware of it," Fussell said.
The city's General Counsel's office is looking into the use of clerk of court funds to pay Fuller's legal bills after they told him he could not pay those fees out of his budget.
"I was the Clerk of the Court. I felt it was appropriate to do what I did," Fuller told Channel 4's Jim Piggott. "I did not misappropriate any money."
In addition to leaving office after a very public battle over term-limit restrictions, Fuller also got into a dispute with City Council in his final months over paying $173,928 in bonuses to 35 of his appointed employees.
Council passed an amendment to the city budget for the coming year reducing the Clerk of Courts' budget by an amount equal to the bonuses given.
Fuller maintained at the time it was state money and had nothing to do with city of Jacksonville funds, and he was entitled to spend it any way he wanted.
The now-retired Fuller continues to defend his actions, including giving more than two-dozen appointed employees raises of between $4,000 and $20,000 in his final weeks in office -- many to the same employees he had given bonuses to last fall.
Fussell rescinded the raises as soon as he learned of them. Two of the 30 employees affected opted to leave the clerk's office rather than work at the salary they earned last year.
"Ronnie has his own opinion on how he wants to run the clerks' office. I could say, 'Why didn't he call me about these issues and ask me about that?'" Fuller said of Fussell. "Ronnie's never called me."
John Crescimbeni, who was Fuller's harshest critic on City Council, called this last-minute spending spree "egregious."
"To do that at the last opportunity where it would not show up on his watch but show up on the incoming clerk's watch is reprehensible," Crescimbeni said.
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