PerspectivesRobin Lumb Jacksonville Today Contributor
State Attorney Melissa Nelson announces the indictment of Shanna Gardner-Fernandez.State Attorney Melissa Nelson announces the indictment of Shanna Gardner-Fernandez.
State Attorney Melissa Nelson announces the indictment of Shanna Gardner-Fernandez in August of 2023. | Dan Scanlan

OPINION | Will she or won’t she: Is State Attorney Melissa Nelson running for re-election?

Published on April 1, 2024 at 4:39 pm
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Under the Florida Constitution, each state attorney is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases throughout his or her circuit (whether that circuit contains just one mega county, like Miami-Dade, or seven small counties in North Florida.) The state attorney has the power to file criminal charges when there is sufficient evidence of lawbreaking and to make sentencing recommendations upon conviction. In each of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits it is the state attorney, elected by popular vote, who is the supreme law enforcement officer.

Of the 19 judicial circuits where the office of state attorney will be up for election in 2024, only one – Duval, Clay and Nassau’s Fourth Judicial Circuit – is without a candidate at this time. In 15 judicial circuits, the incumbent has already filed the required paperwork for re-election with the Florida Division of Elections, and in three circuits, the incumbent is not seeking re-election.

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This brings us to one of the most important questions of the day: Is Fourth Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson planning to run for re-election?

Circumstantially, indications are that Nelson intends to run once again. She’s elevated her public profile in recent months with speaking appearances and has reportedly laughed off suggestions that she might be planning to retire.

But facts are facts.

First elected in 2016 when she defeated incumbent Angela Corey, Nelson, a Republican, was re-elected in 2020 without opposition. In 2020, however, Nelson filed for re-election on February 5 of that year, a full two and a half months before the qualifying deadline. Nelson’s early filing in 2020 was an unambiguous declaration that she intended to continue serving as state attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit.

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In the first week of April of 2024, however, Nelson has yet to officially declare her intention.

The work of the Office of the State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit, a three-county region of 1.3 million, is critical to the administration of justice. We need honest and experienced prosecuting attorneys who can handle this responsibility.

Finding candidates for the office would be difficult if Nelson decides not to run at the last minute, effectively preventing other candidates from coming forward who might otherwise have decided to run.

We need to avoid is a situation such as occurred in 2020 when Michael Kalil was elected to the Circuit Court bench without opposition when Judge Tyrie Boyer dropped his re-election bid just before the qualifying deadline.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that Nelson, wishing to run once again unopposed, is simply waiting to file in order to smoke out any possible opponents. This would allow her to avoid the time-consuming work of having to raise money and run a campaign. For those holding elected office, this is always the preferred option.

But the qualifying deadline for the office of state attorney is less than a month away. Once that deadline passes, there are no do-overs.

Voters have a vested interest in the person who occupies the office of state attorney. They have a right to know if Melissa Nelson is running for re-election. If she’s undecided, they have a right to know that as well so potential candidates can begin to make plans.

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor Robin Lumb is a former chair of the Duval County Republican Party. He served as an at-Large member of Jacksonville City Council from 2011 to 2015 before joining the Curry administration as policy analyst. Lumb remains active in Republican Party politics and currently heads the Alliance of Conservative Voters, a not-for-profit organization working in the areas of voter education, voter engagement and anti-corruption and election-reform initiatives.

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