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New State Attorney Promises Reform In First Public Speech Since Taking Office

Ryan Benk

In her first public appearance as state attorney Monday, Melissa Nelsonreiterated her campaign promise of restoring the public’s confidence in Northeast Florida’s criminal justice system.

Nelson admitted the challenge of changing the office’s culture will be an exacting task, but that she had a specific blueprint to accomplish that goal.

She told members of the Jacksonville Rotary Club she intends to appoint a committee to review all death penalty cases and issue recommendations, streamline her violent crime and homicide units to foster better communication, strengthen community relationships and increase transparency moving forward.

“I have recruited, as my most important advisors and leaders in our office, people who share the same values as I and whose careers reflect the competence, ethics, professionalism and exercise of judgement the public deserves,” she said.

Nelson’s appearance had all the hallmarks of an inaugural address where she shared with the audience what helped influence her philosophy.

Her father was a sheriff’s deputy and then a U.S. Marshall before retiring and Nelson told the crowd he was, in part, responsible for her “tough, but fair” approach to prosecution.

“The earliest and most powerful of my teachers was my father. He devoted his entire career to law enforcement and was the first who admonished me to never lose respect for the awesome power that the stroke of my pen had,” she said.

Nelsondefeated incumbent Angela Corey in August’s Republican primary by close to 40 percentage points, signaling a departure from traditionally-conservative tough-on-crime-policies.

Corey gained national notoriety for her affinity for the death penalty and trying children as adults.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.