Cobb County sheriff candidates Maj. Craig Owens and Gregory Gilstrap have won their appeals against their disqualifications in the race, the MDJ has learned.
“His hearing was this morning at 10,” Owens’ campaign spokeswoman Saba Long said in an email to the MDJ Monday, alongside the judge’s order and a statement attributed to Owens, who is commander of the Cobb County Police Department’s Precinct 2.
“I would like to thank the Cobb County Superior Court for affirming what my life and career of service indicate – I am qualified for this position,” Owens stated. “When I consulted with my wife and family and made the choice to run for Cobb County sheriff, we went in with clear eyes and full hearts, knowing the journey would not be easy. We decided to run this race because Cobb deserves better.”
Owens and Gilstrap, an officer of the Carver College Police Department, were disqualified as candidates on March 26 by the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration.
The board disqualified Owens and Gilstrap, both Democrats, because Owens did not submit an affidavit within three days of qualifying that proved he graduated high school and Gilstrap did not prove his chosen chief deputy met certain requirements including being a registered voter.
These objections were brought to the board’s attention by fellow Democratic candidate James “Jimmy” Herndon, who challenged his rivals’ qualifications at a formal hearing in Marietta.
Herndon also tried to get Sheriff Neil Warren disqualified as a candidate in this year’s race by alleging Warren did not, as required by law, have a notary stamp on his qualifying documents, although this proved inaccurate and Herndon’s challenge of Warren was withdrawn.
Owens, Gilstrap and Herndon were the only Democrats to qualify for this year’s Cobb sheriff’s election, and Warren the only Republican, having been in the role since 2004.
“Voters deserve a choice,” Owens stated Monday. “The petty actions that led us to this moment make clear the difference between me and my opponents. This election is about restoring trust and integrity to the Cobb sheriff’s office. It’s time to do away with the days of intimidation and replace them with the respected leadership you deserve. To the voters of Cobb, I want you to know this: a new day is coming. Now it’s time to vote so truth and justice will prevail.”
Owens’ appeal, filed April 3, was initially assigned to Cobb Superior Court Chief Judge Reuben Green, but was reassigned to Senior Judge Tambra Colston, who on April 3 was instructed by the court to help with the Cobb judicial circuit’s caseload, records show.
Cobb Superior Court is working to handle all appeals within the usual time frame, despite there being temporary restrictions on Cobb court operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gilstrap’s attorney Walter Furlong, of Marietta, told the MDJ Monday Gilstrap also won his appeal and will appear on the ballot in the May 19 primary election.
“After we filed our appeal, we filed an emergency motion and brief,” Furlong said. “The respondents agreed with our legal position and an order was submitted to Judge Colston, a senior judge, who was assigned both cases. She emailed counsel back that she signed the order last Friday and would file it when she was here hearing the Owens case.”
Gilstrap shared a message to his supporters with the MDJ Monday afternoon, thanking them for their words of encouragement and prayers.
“We have overcome one hurdle, now it’s time to get to work,” Gilstrap said. “I’m asking for your continued support as we move forward in this 2020 election. Please come out and support me with your vote during the primary election on May 19, 2020.”
Court documents show Gilstrap’s appeal, filed on March 31, was initially assigned to Judge Robert Leonard.
Gilstrap is no stranger to the appeal process, successfully appealing his disqualification as a Cobb sheriff candidate in 2004, Cobb Superior Court records show.
In May 2004 Gilstrap, who had qualified as a Democratic Cobb sheriff candidate, was disqualified by the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration for not filing an affidavit naming his chief deputy and their qualifications before the end of the qualifying period.
Gilstrap appealed to Cobb Superior Court on the basis that while candidates were required by Cobb law to disclose their proposed chief deputies before the end of qualifying, there was no such stipulation in state law, and therefore disqualification on that basis was a violation of candidates’ rights.
Cobb Superior Court Senior Judge Arthur Fudger agreed, ordering on June 11, 2004, for Gilstrap’s name to be added to the ballot as a Democratic sheriff candidate, per court records.