Jacksonville sheriff vacated office when he moved to Nassau County, city lawyer’s draft opinion says

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The lawyer for the city of Jacksonville drafted what would have been a legally binding opinion that found Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams vacated his office when he moved from Duval County to Nassau County last year.

But that opinion, obtained by News4JAX, was never issued after Williams, 54, announced his retirement Thursday morning.

The general counsel’s draft opinion would have deemed the office of the sheriff to be vacant as of 2 p.m. June 2, 2022. The Office of the General Counsel (OGC) added that Williams would not have to pay back any compensation he received from the time he moved out of Duval County until that date.

MORE: Jacksonville’s sheriff is stepping down over residency issue. What happens now?

“Any actions taken and compensation received by the Sheriff between such time as he removed his residence outside of Duval County and the effective date and the time of this vacancy determination are valid actions and compensation of the Jacksonville Sheriff by virtue of his de facto status in that office,” General Counsel Jason Teal wrote in his opinion.

RELATED: Some calling for Sheriff Mike Williams to pay back salary & more to taxpayers

City Council President Sam Newby had requested the OGC look into the issue after reports first surfaced that Williams had moved out of the county during his term, a move that possibly violated the city’s charter.

Newby gave the city’s general counsel office until Thursday at 2 p.m. for a legal opinion on the issue. Newby told News4JAX on Thursday morning that he withdrew his request for a report after Williams announced his retirement. Newby said he thinks since Williams is retiring that it resolves the issue — for now.

“After talking to legal they said that there was no point for us and City Council only has two questions to see if there’s a vacancy then to call a special election. So when the sheriff resigned that opened up the vacancy,” Newby said.

City council member Brenda Priestly Jackson who is also an attorney isn’t buying that and is asking questions.

“We cannot act as a city council with our heads in the ground and say OK he’s going to retire not resign. Again, retire, not resign,” she said.

Priestly Jackson said she has no personal problems with Williams but said this goes into the integrity of all elected officials in following the rules and laws.

“If just being a nice guy means we don’t have to follow the law, that’s not fair,” she added.

Priestly believes we will see many lawsuits filed as a result of all of this and that is why she thinks it will be important to have a legal option from the city attorney.

Records show Williams and his wife sold their Jacksonville home a year ago, listing a new address in Nassau County on the deed selling their home.

According to the city’s charter: “If the sheriff should die, resign, or remove his residence from Duval County during his term of office, or be removed from office, the office of sheriff shall become vacant.”

However, Williams said state law, which does not require a sheriff to live in a county where they serve and said the state law would overrule the city charter in this case. The city’s general counsel disagreed, according to the draft opinion.

Earlier this week, Williams said he had no intention of resigning as sheriff, but he changed his mind sometime after meeting with city attorneys at the sheriff’s office on Tuesday.

In a letter released Thursday announcing his decision to retire, Williams said he didn’t want to drag the residency issue through the courts.

MORE: Jacksonville sheriff candidates react to Mike Williams’ sudden retirement

“After some consideration, I have decided that a court battle over my residency would not be good for our community,” Williams wrote. “I’m proud of my 31 years of service to this City and am excited about a new chapter and new challenges.”

The Jacksonville City Council will now hold a special meeting Monday to set a date in August for a special election followed by a runoff in November to fill Williams’ unexpired term in the wake of his retirement announcement.

Williams has not yet responded to requests for comment.

About the Authors:

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.