Mimesis Law
25 May 2020

The Best Candidate (Except For All The Others)

May 23, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Florida has a strange quirk in its election laws. It’s a closed primary state, so one has to be registered as a Republican or Democrat to vote in those respective primaries. But,

All registered voters can vote in a primary election, regardless of which major or minor political party they are registered or even if they are registered without a specific party affiliation when:

All the candidates for an office have the same party affiliation and the winner of the primary election will not face any opposition in the general election (i.e. no write-in candidates have qualified).

That last bit is where it gets interesting. In the 4th Circuit of Florida (Clay, Duval, and Nassau Counties, basically Jacksonville and its metro area), Angela Corey is running for re-election as State’s Attorney, and Matt Shirk is running for re-election as Chief Public Defender. Both are Republicans.  Corey faces opposition from two other candidates, Wesley White and Melissa Nelson, both former Assistant State’s Attorneys. Shirk faces opposition from Charles Cofer, a former Assistant Public Defender who retired from the bench in order to pursue the position. Since no Democrats are running, the Republican primary on August 30th would have been open to all voters.

Then things got interesting. A lawyer named Kenny Leigh filed for State’s Attorney, but with no party affiliation, meaning he was running as a write-in. By some miraculous coincidence, an attorney named Ronald Falcon filed for Public Defender, again as a write-in, at the same time. Only a cynic would suggest that Leigh and Falcon are acting as stalking horses for Corey and Shirk, to ensure that the Republican primaries are closed to non-Republican voters, thus increasing their chances of re-election.

The cynics are right:

Leigh describes himself as a “big supporter” of the incumbent he is running against, and contributed to Corey’s campaign in 2008. Justice [a consultant for Ms. Corey], meanwhile, had run Leigh’s campaign for the school board in Clay County earlier this decade.

“I received and submitted Kenny Leigh’s documents on Thursday, May 5th solely in my capacity as the Duval County Republican State Committeeman,” [Alexander] Pantinakis [Corey’s campaign manager] wrote in a prepared statement. “Throughout my time as State Committeeman, I have always been a proponent of ensuring that only registered Republicans select Republican nominees for office and would question any Republican candidate who would reject that idea.”

Falcon, on the other hand, is running for totally legitimate reasons:

His ultimate goal is not Public Defender, Falcon said.

“I’m a poor lawyer. I’m my own secretary. I vacuum, wash windows, write motions. I do want to      become a judge, and this is a test: do people know me?”

“I have a name recognition problem,” Falcon adds, which seems a curious place for a write-in campaign’s genesis.

The side-effect of his name-recognition campaign is apparently just a coincidence:

Despite his candidacy having the effect of closing the GOP primary, Falcon, a lifelong independent voter, asserted that effect didn’t cross his mind.

Of course not.

You might think this is a post about Shirk and Corey being sleazy. That’s tempting, especially because Shirk is really a piece of work:

Shirk, who was backed by the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, has never defended a homicide case. His campaign promises included a vow not to oppose funding cuts to the office he was running for, and a promise to squeeze as much money as possible out of indigent defendants, including a proposal for the postponed billing of acquitted defendants who might later be able to find some employment.

Shirk also promised during the campaign not to make drastic changes to the staff of the public defender office. But last week, he announced he’d be firing ten senior-level attorneys and three administrators.

He also promised that his APDs wouldn’t call police officers liars, regardless of whether the officer in question was, you know, lying. He was also described as Angela Corey’s “protégé.”

True enough, electing public defenders is a bad idea, because the entire raison d’etre of a public defender is to deny the people what they want: namely, the defendant’s head. (The best known exception to this rule is Jeff Adachi of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, but Adachi won’t live forever. Worse, there’s no guarantee he won’t be replaced by someone like Matt Shirk.) Shirk had to run for re-election in 2012, and the voters chose…poorly.

Except, it doesn’t appear that Corey or Shirk did anything illegal. Sure, they took advantage of a stupid law, which is every citizen’s (and candidate’s) right. Here’s the thing: whatever tricks they can pull off, they still have to win the election. If the voters of the 4th Circuit want better lawyers on both sides of the courtroom, they’ll have to take care of that little matter themselves. Hey, it worked in Chicago. It worked in Cleveland. There’s no reason it can’t happen in Jacksonville.

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  • Ken
    23 May 2016 at 11:31 am - Reply

    You haven’t even scratched the surface to get to the sleeze.

    “A Duval County grand jury has recommended Public Defender Matt Shirk resign immediately and if he fails to leave office that the governor should consider removing him.”

    “Her peers describe an M.O. of retaliation and overcharging.”