Law and government in Jacksonville, Florida
Administrative structure 
The most noteworthy feature of Jacksonville government is its consolidated nature. The 1968 Duval County-Jacksonville consolidation eliminated any type of separate county executive or legislature, and supplanted these positions with the Mayor of Jacksonville and the City Council of the City of Jacksonville, respectively. Because of this, voters who live outside of the city limits of Jacksonville, but inside of Duval County, are allowed not only to vote in elections for these positions, but to run for them as well. In fact, in 1995, John Delaney, a resident of Neptune Beach, was elected mayor of the City of Jacksonville.
In 1968, the small municipalities of Baldwin, Neptune Beach, Atlantic Beach and Jacksonville Beach voted not to join the consolidated government. The four separate communities, which comprise only 6% of the total county population, provide their own municipal services, while maintaining the right to contract with the consolidated government to provide services. In December 2005, the city council of Baldwin in the far western portion of Duval County voted to eliminate their police department. In March 2006, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office assumed policing responsibilities for the one-square mile town.
Jacksonville uses the Mayor-Council form of city government, also called the Strong-Mayor form, in which a mayor serves as the city's Chief Executive and Administrative officer. The mayor holds veto power over all resolutions and ordinances made by the city council, and also has the power to hire and fire the head of various city departments. The current mayor is Alvin Brown. He began his first term on July 1, 2011.
Law enforcement 
Jacksonville and Duval County historically maintained separate police agencies: the Jacksonville Police Department and Duval County Sheriff's Office. As part of consolidation in 1968, the two merged, creating the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office (JSO). The JSO is headed by the elected Sheriff of Duval County, currently John Rutherford, and is responsible for law enforcement and corrections in the county.
Jacksonville Constitutional Officers
Firefighting and rescue 
The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department (JFRD) is responsible for all fire protection and rescue service (ambulance) in Duval County with exceptions. Jacksonville Beach has its own department, while Atlantic Beach provides a fire station facility that is staffed and equipped by JFRD. Baldwin has a (mostly) volunteer fire department and Neptune Beach relies on Atlantic Beach for fire protection. The current JFRD Director/Fire Chief is Martin Senterfitt. This position is appointed by the Mayor.
Autonomous agencies 
Some government services remained - as they had been prior to consolidation – independent of both city and county authority. In accordance with Florida law, the Duval County School Board continues to exist with nearly complete autonomy. Jacksonville also has several quasi-independent government agencies which only nominally answer to the consolidated authority, including electric authority, port authority, transportation authority, housing authority and airport authority. The main environmental and agricultural body is the Duval County Soil and Water Conservation District, which works closely with other area and state agencies.
Office of General Counsel 
The Office of the General Counsel (OGC), currently led by Cindy Laquidara, includes 39 attorneys, making it one of the largest and diverse law firms in Jacksonville. It operates just like a private firm because “clients” are billed in detail for legal services provided. Clients include the public utility provider (JEA), the school district (Duval County Public Schools), Airport, Seaport, Transportation and Housing Authorities, constitutional officers (Mayor, Supervisor of Elections, Property Appraiser, Sheriff, Tax Collector and Clerk of Court), 10 departments, 19 City Council members, and 40+ boards, commissions, and agencies. Due to this unusual client list, the General Counsel’s website states that they offer support for areas that include commercial, personal injury, constitutional & civil rights litigation, real estate, land use, environmental law, labor and employment law, education law, workers' compensation, eminent domain, foreclosures, evictions, bankruptcy, torts, municipal finance, procurement, contract negotiation and drafting, as well as a variety of economic development and transactional areas.
The 1967 Charter that created Jacksonville's consolidated form of government included a provision for the Office of General Counsel. Under the Charter, the OGC represents all Jacksonville government entities and the office has developed the expertise to advise clients on municipal law and Jacksonville's Charter and consolidated form of government. The Charter also states that any legal opinion rendered by the General Counsel is binding on the entire consolidated government. Since 1968, General Counsels have issued over 370 binding legal opinions. In the early years of consolidation, legal opinions were critical to the successful establishment Jacksonville’s consolidated government and the elimination of litigation between entities.
Laquidara, the city's first female General Counsel, prefers to focus on legal issues, in contrast to previous General Counsels who tried to influence policy and used the office as a springboard to political office. She joined the OGC as chief deputy in 1998 after 15 years in private practice, all in Jacksonville. She represented the family of Scott Speicher, the Navy pilot who was the first casualty of the 1991 Gulf War, and declined an interview by Dan Rather. When Rather interviewed Saddam Hussein, no questions were asked about Speicher, so Laquidara decided not to waste her time on Rather.
City Council 
The city council has nineteen members, fourteen of whom are elected from single-member districts where each member must reside in the district that s/he represents.
The other five members are elected under a unique hybrid district/at-large system. Prior to the early 1990s, these members were elected at-large, with no specific residency requirements. However, over time the five members were all elected from the same side of the city. In order to increase participation from other areas, voters approved a change in the city charter which divided the city up into five "super-districts" (unrelated to the 14 single-member districts), with one member from each district. However, the five members are still elected at-large.
Regional representatives 
Federally, Jacksonville is split between three congressional districts. Most of the city is in the 4th district, represented by Republican Ander Crenshaw. Most of central Jacksonville is in the 3rd district, represented by Democrat Corinne Brown. Most of southwestern Jacksonville is in the 6th district, represented by Republican Cliff Stearns. Jacksonville is represented in the State Senate by John Thrasher (R), Stephen R. Wise (R) and Tony Hill (D), and in the State House by Janet Adkins (R), Jennifer Carroll (R), Mia Jones (D), Audrey Gibson (D), Lake Ray (R), Doc Renuart (R), Charles McBurney (R) and Mike Weinstein (R). Jacksonville, as well as the rest of the State of Florida, are served in the U.S. Senate by Bill Nelson (D) and George LeMieux (R); and by Governor Rick Scott (R).
Federal Court 
Jacksonville is in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. There are 15 authorized judgeships in the district who are appointed by the POTUS and confirmed by the Senate. Additionally, there are 7 judges with Senior status who are eligible to hear cases. Chief Judge of the District is Patricia C. Fawsett.
A new Federal Courthouse in Jacksonville was completed in late 2002 and opened in 2003 to replace the old facility, built in 1933. On February 8, 2005, the 492,000 sq ft (45,700 m2) building at 300 North Hogan Street was named, the John Milton Bryan Simpson United States Courthouse.
State court 
Jacksonville is in the 4th Judicial Circuit of Florida, which includes Duval, Clay and Nassau Counties. Circuit Courts have jurisdiction over felonies, tax issues, real property, juvenile issues, probate, family law (dissolution of marriage, paternity and adoption) and determination of competence. There are 29 elected circuit judges for Duval county: (8) Civil, (1) Probate, (7) Family, (8) Criminal and (4) Juvenile. Donald Moran is chief judge of the circuit.
The State Attorney's Office has the responsibility for prosecuting persons charged with crimes. The position of State Attorney is an elected position and is currently held by Angela Corey, who took office on January 6, 2009.
The Public Defender's Office has the responsibility for defending persons charged with crimes subject to incarceration and judged indigent. The position of Public Defender is an elected position and is currently held by Matthew Shirk, who took office on January 6, 2009.
The existing courthouse was constructed in 1958 and the county's population grew by more than 50% in the past forty years. A new $190 million Duval County Courthouse was a key component of the Better Jacksonville Plan, approved by voters in 2000. After ten years and several mis-steps, the (now) $350 million complex was 37% complete in June 2010 and scheduled to open in May, 2012.
County court 
County Courts primarily handle civil cases where the amount in controversy is less than $15,000, Small claims court, misdemeanors, violations of civil & municipal ordinances and traffic tickets. There are 17 elected county judges for Duval county.
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Jacksonville, like most of North & Central Florida and the panhandle, was historically populated by conservative Democrats. However, the city began moving away from its Democratic roots sooner than the rest of Florida. Except for Jimmy Carter in 1976, the city has not supported a Democrat for president since 1952. Even as the city became increasingly willing to support Republicans nationally, Democrats continued to dominate most local offices well into the 1990s.
Starting in the 1980s, thousands of Republicans moved to Florida and Jacksonville from northern states or relocated from south Florida to avoid overcrowding, state income taxes, high prices and crime. They slowly ate away at the Democratic dominance at the local level. This culminated in 1992, when Tillie Fowler became the first Republican to represent a significant portion of Jacksonville in Congress since Reconstruction. Two years later, Republicans swept most of the city's seats in the state legislature, and incumbent Democratic mayor Ed Austin switched parties to become a Republican. In 1995, John Delaney became the city's first elected Republican mayor since 1887.
From 1995 to 2011 Republicans dominated Jacksonville politics, even though Democrats still have a majority of registered voters. Republicans currently hold the majority on the city council but lost the Mayor's position in 2011. They also hold five of the city's seven state house seats and two of the city's three state senate seats.
Jacksonville politics have become increasingly racially polarized. While the city's whites have mostly supported Republicans since the 1990s, African-Americans provide most of the city's Democratic base. Five of the six Democrats currently on the city council are African-American, and all of the Democrats representing significant portions of the city in the state legislature are African-American. Also other non white groups such as Asian-Americans and Hispanic Americans also tend to support the local Democratic Party base.
- "JFRD Fire Chiefs" City of Jacksonville website, Fire & Rescue Department
- Galnor, Matt: "New Jacksonville general counsel shuns the spotlight but not the legal work" Florida Times-Union, August 3, 2010
- About the Office of General Counsel City of Jacksonville website, Office of General Counsel
- Galnor, Matt: "Laquidara to be Jacksonville’s first female general counsel" Florida Times-Union, May 4, 2010
- "Representatives, Regular Session 2010". Florida House of Representatives.
- Energy Star building profiles: Jacksonville Federal Courthouse
- Washington Post website: Building Designations
- City of Jacksonville website: 4th Judicial Circuit Court
- Galnor, Matt: "Duval County Courthouse rising after years of struggles" Florida Times-Union, June 27, 2010