73ºF

Duval County clerk of court

Florida judicial circuits map
Florida judicial circuits map

Three Republicans and one Democrat are running to be the next County Clerk of Circuit and County Court.

Ronnie Fussell, who has served as clerk since January 2013, is term-limited and cannot seek re-election. Jody Phillips prevailed in a three-way Republican primary and will face Democrat Jimmy Midyette in the November general election.

Because State Attorney Melissa Nelson and Public Defender Charlie Cofer did not draw opponents, they will advance to second terms serving the 4th Judicial Circuit. None of 11 circuit judges -- 10 of them incumbents -- drew opposition.

Scroll down to read each clerk candidate’s responses to News4Jax’s questionnaire, presented verbatim as submitted.

Leon Jackson

Party affiliation: Republican

Age: 49

Candidate’s family: 4 adult children, 5 grandchildren

Occupation: Senior Manager, Clerk of the Courts

Education: GED

Political experience: None

What do you see as the top three issues in this race?

  • The most important issue in this race is electing a person as Clerk who will bring the most integrity, dedication and experience to this office.
  • The Clerk should hire and manage the duties of the office with a desire to see the community thrive, giving equal opportunity to all who work and come through the courthouse doors.

How can you help voters in a way that others running for this office cannot?

I am the only candidate with 31 years of dedicated service in the Clerk's office. Over those year I have held various positions from part-time helper to senior manager and therefore have expertise and first-hand knowledge other candidates do not possess. This enables me to serve the community more authentically and completely.

What would you hope to be remembered for accomplishing after serving in this office?

I hope to be remembered as the hardest working Clerk in Jacksonville's history. I hope to be remembered for facilitating a better understanding of the clerk's office within the community. I hope to be remembered for serving the Clerk's office with dedication and passion as the first African American in this office.

If elected how would you address the calls for racial justice?

I would ensure the diversity within the Clerk's office staff reflects and represents the community we serve. I would also look at the pay scales of each position to ensure equal pay for equal work.

What challenges does COVID-19 present to the office you are seeking?

The Clerk's office is still developing protocols for safe reopening of the building and services to the community. There is currently no jury service. Once precautions are in place, jury service will resume. We are currently unable to process evictions. To reach the community during this time, information technology is being evaluated and expanded for people to have access to services. All of this presents a challenge for moving forward to serve the community safely, effectively and efficiently.

Campaign website: jacksonforclerk.com

Campaign’s social media pages: Facebook

Jody Phillips

Party affiliation: Republican

Age: 57

Candidate’s family: Wife: Susan. Son: Tyler (Kristyann) Daughter: Kaycee (Sean) 4 grandchildren

Occupation: Chief Operating Officer for Duval County Clerk of Courts

Education: High school diploma, some college

Political experience: This is my first time running for public office

What do you see as the top three issues in this race?

I think the three biggest issues in this race are about electing a leader with the right experience, the right leadership skills, and the integrity to address the following:

  • Innovation: Clerks of the Courts have to be innovators and continually look for ways to streamline and manage the office in the most cost effective way. We must find a way to create additional accessibility for the people we serve through technology and other means.
  • Partnerships: The Clerk’s Office by design partners with a host of other government entities and outside agencies. We fill a supporting role to all three branches of government. The elected Clerk will continue to cultivate our existing relationships to create a seamless level of service to all that seek assistance and interaction with our office.
  • Fiscal Responsibility: The Clerk of Court is funded based on revenue received from all Clerk’s throughout the state. It is quite possibly one of the most complex budget structures of any of our constitutional offices. In Duval County, we collect just under $400 million annually which is disbursed to several hundred different agencies and trust funds. This is all done with a budget of approximately $25 million. The elected Clerk must be well versed in the intricacies of this fiscal model and have the highest level of integrity and transparency to be entrusted with this responsibility. Advocating for appropriate funding levels and support for additional requirements placed on the Clerk of Court is critical.

How can you help voters in a way that others running for this office cannot?

I currently serve as the Chief Operating Officer for the Clerk’s Office and have served in a leadership role in the office for the last eight years. This along with my 25 plus years of private sector experience, makes me uniquely qualified to serve as the Clerk of the Court. I am the only candidate with the management experience to lead an organization of this size and complexity. I have exclusive insight as to what it takes to run this office and will not require on the job training. I have established relationships with peer counties and the Clerk’s Associations. I have real experience, real leadership, and real integrity.

What would you hope to be remembered for accomplishing after serving in this office?

I would hope to be remembered for my integrity, respect for all those we serve in the Clerk’s Office and for honoring my word and commitment to the office.

If elected how would you address the calls for racial justice?

The Clerk’s Office was established in the State Constitution to uphold a position of trust and transparency. As a support system to our community and that of the Judicial Branch, we will always treat each person with dignity and respect.

What challenges does COVID-19 present to the office you are seeking?

COVID-19 has certainly presented us with opportunities to innovate on a faster timeline. Our team has really pulled together and focused on continuing to serve even when things could not be done in person. A great example of this is being able to issue Marriage Licenses by Zoom and passing documents back and forth to constituents for electronic presentation. Additionally, COVID-19 has presented some unique budget challenges since all Clerk’s in the state are funded based on revenue received. We continue to be diligent in safeguarding those revenues and using them efficiently with minimal disruption to service levels.

Add Tag to Answer Select Quote

Campaign website: Jodyforclerk.com

Campaign’s social media pages: Facebook

  DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE

Jimmy Midyette

Party affiliation: Democratic

Age: 43

Candidate’s family: (none)

Occupation: Attorney

Education: UNF and FSU

Political experience: Mayor Alvin Brown Transition Committee, 2019 Campaign Surrogate for Tommy Hazouri, Legislative Director of Jacksonville Coalition for Equality

What do you see as the top three issues in this race?

  1. Real Access to Courts - As more people must go it alone when navigating the legal system, your clerk of court must increase self-help resources and clinics that will help guide you to justice. We will bring the courthouse to you however possible with technology and community-based events.
  2. Support for Voting Rights - Formerly incarcerated people need to know what they owe and how to pay it back. I will produce a one-page sheet for each case that clearly shows all fines and fees owed so that individuals will be able to register and vote under the Florida Voting Restoration Amendment.
  3. A Courthouse for Everyone - Instead of removing services and blocking access to civil weddings, your next clerk will reopen the courthouse wedding chapel for use by every happy couple that seeks a civil ceremony. I will consult with the public before removing services from your courthouse.

How can you help voters in a way that others running for this office cannot?

As an experienced practicing attorney and heavy user of the Clerk's services, I am uniquely qualified to see the office from the perspective of the user and therefore can make changes benefitting the taxpayers.

What would you hope to be remembered for accomplishing after serving in this office?

I would like to be the Clerk remembered for modernizing the office and opening the doors to all the residents of Duval County.

If elected how would you address the calls for racial justice?

As an anti-racist, I believe the calls for racial justice are legitimate and should be addressed wherever possible. For example, I'm concerned about the issues of bail and pleas in first appearance court. I also want to be sure the staff of the clerk's office reflects the diversity of Jacksonville.

What challenges does COVID-19 present to the office you are seeking?

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the Clerk's office. I want to increase the adoption of e-signatures and video services that allow Duval residents to conduct business with the Clerk's office remotely when appropriate.

Campaign website: jimmyforclerk.com

Campaign’s social media pages: Facebook