JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A judge whose rulings helped put a Jacksonville police sergeant on – then take him off – a list of troubled officers exhibited some indecision in that process.
A draft version of Circuit Judge Bruce Anderson’s April order about Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Sgt. J.C. Nobles obtained by First Coast News shows his opinion morphed from a 16-page version to just two.
And while the final version denied the State Attorney’s Office’s request to “clarify” his 2018 opinion finding Nobles untrustworthy, his draft version granted it.
The April order was just the most recent development in the long-running case. In 2018, Anderson threw out charges against a criminal defendant after finding that Nobles, a lead officer in the arrest, was “evasive” “not credible,” and “completely and materially changed his sworn testimony.”
After the judge’s order, Nobles spent four years on the Brady list -- a directory of cops whose past behavior requires disclosure to criminal defendants.
Nobles has always protested being on the Brady list, however, and following a First Coast News report on the Brady List in February, Chief Assistant State Attorney L.E. Hutton agreed at his request to ask Anderson to “clarify” his 2018 order. Because the case is four years old and closed, everyone agreed the judge has no actual jurisdiction in the case.
Anderson tried to provide that “clarity” anyway, albeit on a shifting legal basis.
In his draft order, Anderson wrote, “In general, the Court lacks jurisdiction to rule on the Motion for Clarification nearly four years after the State dropped the charges. There is no legal authority for the State to file the motion.”
Bolstering that argument, he noted prosecutors never “appealed the [original] Order, filed a timely motion for rehearing, or otherwise previously sought clarification from the Court concerning its findings related to Sgt. Nobles’ testimony.”
After laying that groundwork, however, Anderson opined in the draft that the SAO’s request “present[s] issues of great public importance,” and went on to grant the request for clarification.
“The Court is entering this Order to explain and repeat what should have been obvious and straightforward,” he wrote, without apparent irony, adding, “the Court made no finding that Sgt. Nobles … engaged in any personal or professional misconduct, attempted to intentionally mislead the Court, or otherwise committed perjury.”
That draft order was never finalized. The two-page version he ultimately issued didn’t dwell on the history of the case or the rationale for weighing in. Instead, Anderson wrote several exculpatory paragraphs about Nobles (“this Court neither believed nor found that Sgt. Nobles ‘lied’ in his hearing testimony or sworn deposition testimony, or that he otherwise endeavored to intentionally mislead or deceive the Court”). He then denied prosecutors' request for clarification, saying he had no jurisdiction to weigh in.
Based on that new order, State Attorney Melissa Nelson determined Nobles' name should come off the Brady list.
The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers objected. The group has sent two letters to Nelson, claiming prosecutors have “now taken on the role of Sgt. Nobles’ lawyer,” creating “an inherent conflict” that will require them to recuse themselves from any future case involving Nobles. They have demanded Nobles be put back on the Brady list.
Nelson has rejected the group’s demands, saying her office's request for clarification on Nobles status “was not pled on behalf of Sgt. Nobles but was an endeavor to determine the necessity of concluded Brady disclosures [about him].”
As of now, Sgt. Nobles remains on the street, and off the Brady list.