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Candidates for the 4th Judicial Circuit Office of State Attorney race took part in a forum Monday at the Meninak Club of Jacksonville. From left, with less than a month to go, State Attorney Angela Corey and challengers Melissa Nelson and Wes White ha...
Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Aug. 9, 201612:00 PM EST

Looking to distance themselves

State attorney candidates promote self, demote others
by: David Chapman

As the days roll on toward the Aug. 30 primary, the barbs become sharper for candidates vying for the Office of the State Attorney.

Take for example the start of closing comments Monday in what was a spirited forum among Republicans Angela Corey, Melissa Nelson and Wes White.

Corey was asked to start, yet said as the incumbent to the office, she’d like to speak last at the event.

“Another example that the rules don’t apply to her,” Nelson said quickly, before using her few minutes to promote her candidacy by comparing her motives with those of her opponents.

White was looking for a job, she said. Corey was seeking to retain power that had helped her “grow rich” by way of taxpayers.

But as is the way for most rancorous political races, it went both ways.

Corey during the event lashed out at Nelson for violating her oath of office “in every one of these forums” by purposefully misrepresenting her.

White was critical of Nelson for jumping into the race and finding her voice only when “someone stroked a check” to back her.

Nelson said Corey had shown “failed leadership” in part by boosting her pension plan in recent years with $250,000 that could have been spent hiring other investigators. But Corey said that wasn’t true — she was one of 20 people in her office that had a pension deficit shored up “to the penny” using those funds.

The advertisement mischaracterizing the situation is “reprehensible,” Corey said, but Nelson said she stands behind it.

As for ads, Nelson was the subject of one, too. She accused both Corey and White of conspiring and working together on a campaign ad that is “outrageously false” against her after an independent poll showed she had a lead.

“That’s a lie,” interjected White. “That’s a lie.”

White said he has been critical of Corey since she’s been in office on topics like untested rape kits and a man wrongly being in jail 589 days.

“I raised my voice,” said White.

Nelson had not, he said, in six years — not since taking part in a pro bono effort to defend Cristian Fernandez, the 13-year-old who faced life in prison for killing his 2-year-old half-brother.

Throughout the forum, each candidate laid out his or her reasons for wanting to serve the judicial circuit that comprises Clay, Duval and Nassau counties.

For Corey, it is an opportunity to continue improving conviction and clearance rates along with the number of jury trials, which all were near the bottom when she was first elected in 2009.

For Nelson, she’s stepping away from the private sector to “make a change” and “restore integrity” to the office for the sake of the community.

For White, he does need a job. However, he’s an outsider wanting to serve a community that’s living in “turbulent days,” as he calls them.

The pitches and rhetoric have ramped up since the filing deadline in early May. The advertisements are now hitting, but TV-viewing audiences soon will have an opportunity to see the candidates in action, too.

All three are scheduled to appear on a televised debate at 8 p.m. Aug. 16 at Jacksonville University. It will be live-streamed on the WJXT TV 4 website,, and will air at a later date on the TV station.

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