Florida Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Alachua County in Dispute with Sheriff Darnell

Press release from Alachua County

Today, January 27, 2022, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously ruled for the County in the Alachua County vs. Sheriff Sadie Darnell case that has worked its way through the court system beginning in 2017. 

The Court ruled that the County’s initial position was correct and that the Sheriff must request authority to move money between object levels. This means that any significant change in the budget at the object level or above must return to the Alachua County Commission for Commission approval in the same way that any part of the County Budget would do so. 

Read the ruling.

From the ruling:
We conclude that when seeking to transfer money between objects, the Sheriff must follow the budgetary amendment process established by the Legislature in chapter 129 and that the Sheriff failed to do so here. The existence of a detailed process for the review and approval of funding decisions at the object level, reflected in the plain, whole text of the statute, means that the Legislature decided the Sheriff must obtain the County’s approval before amending those appropriations that the County had previously fixed and approved from the funds it had collected.

The ruling ended with:
We quash the First District’s decision and hold that the Sheriff is not permitted under chapters 30 and 129, Florida Statutes, to make object-level transfers without the approval of the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners.

“This is a victory for good governance,” stated Alachua County Commission Chair Marihelen Wheeler. “This community deserves accountability, transparency, and clear communication between the County, the Constitutional Officers, and our citizens.”

Because of the election of a new Sheriff in 2020, the case was renamed Alachua County vs. Clovis Watson Jr. However, the County has not been in conflict with Sheriff Watson on this issue.  

In a prepared statement, Sheriff Watson said: 
The ruling from the Florida Supreme Court is not a concern. The Court’s decision does not change the way we have been operating over the past year, and we will continue to do so. The goal of my administration has always been to work in collaboration with the chair and Board of County Commissioners in order to serve the people of Alachua County, unimpeded, and I am confident the Alachua County Commission shares the same vision as we move forward together.