Legal opinion: Duval Co. officials face term limits

Florida Supreme Court reverses decade-old decision


JACKSONVILLE, FLa. – Jacksonville's general counsel says Duval County's clerk of courts cannot run for a third term this year, based on her reading of a recent Florida Supreme Court ruling.

The Florida Supreme Court unanimously ruled earlier this month that voters can impose term limits on county commissioners and other officials, which reverses a decision the justices made a decade ago.

Jacksonville's top attorney, Cindy Laquidara, issued a legal opinion Monday that the new ruling would limit constitutional officers to the outcome of a referendum passed by Duval County voters in 1992.

Laquidara issued the opinion in answer to a question about whether Clerk of Courts Jim Fuller could run for re-election, but the term limits would apply to several other officers, including school board, sheriff, property appraiser, tax collector and supervisor of elections when their terms are up.

"(The) timing is not good for Mr. Fuller," Laquidara said Monday afternoon. "My interpretation of the Supreme Court decision is saying that Clerk Fuller cannot qualify (for re-election)."

Duval County Clerk of Courts Jim Fuller
Duval County Clerk of Courts Jim Fuller

Fuller (pictured, left) told Channel 4 he was disappointed with the decision and has retained the same attorney who made the successful 2002 challenge of term limits to challenge this ruling.

"I have a real good chance of getting on the ballot and continuing the work I've started here at the clerk's office," Fuller said.

Duval County Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland -- who would be blocked from running again when his term is up in 2015 -- doesn't think Fuller's appeal will succeed.

"I don't think there is any room to challenge it. I think the courts are very specific," Holland said. "It's something the voters will have to change. If the voters don't want term limits on, they can go the same way -- back to the ballots."

As of Monday, Fuller was the only candidate who had notified the elections office of an intent to run for the clerk of the courts post.

The only other announced candidate that would be blocked from running this year by this ruling is Betty Burney, current chairperson of the Duval County School Board.

Sheriff John Rutherford said he has three years to find out whether he can run for re-election again, saying he will follow whatever the law is.

Jacksonville's mayor and City Council members -- as municipal officers -- have been subject to term limits since the 1992 referendum.

On May 10, the Supreme Court justices upheld cases of Broward and Sarasota counties where residents had approved term limits on county commissioners and other officials. In doing so, the court reversed a 2002 ruling on a case by then-Duval County Clerk of Court Henry Cook that blocked county-imposed term limits.

The ruling applies to what are known as "charter" counties, where voters have approved governing structures that can differ from basic requirements in the Florida Constitution. Charters in at least 10 counties -- Broward, Brevard, Clay, Duval, Hillsborough, Orange, Palm Beach, Polk, Sarasota and Volusia -- include term limits for commissioners, according to a court filing by the Florida Association of Counties.

Justices in 2002 ruled 4-3 that term limits could not be imposed on some county offices that are outlined in the constitution -- clerk of court, sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser and elections supervisor. The majority said that term limits were a form of disqualifying candidates that was not allowed in the constitution.

The Supreme Court took the somewhat-unusual step of rejecting its earlier decision, a move known as "receding."

Matthew Corrigan, a political science professor at the University of North Florida, said he thinks some term limits are too short.

"Their term limit movement wanted eight years. But it's difficult to be in public office this year. There's a lot of resentment and lack of trust. So a shorter time period is probably popular," he said.