Disqualified candidates in the Cobb sheriff election race aren’t giving up and are instead planning to appeal their disqualifications in Cobb Superior Court.
Maj. Craig Owens, commander of the Cobb County Police Department’s Precinct 2, and Officer Gregory Gilstrap, of the Carver College Police Department, were disqualified as 2020 Cobb sheriff candidates by the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration on Thursday.
Each was given 10 days to appeal their disqualification in Cobb Superior Court and both have publicly announced their intention to do so.
Cobb Superior Court is handling all appeals within the usual time frame, despite there being temporary restrictions on Cobb court operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, administrative assistant Kim Dobson told the MDJ on Tuesday.
"We have a 'duty' judge every day who is handling any emergency matters once something is filed with the Superior Court Clerk’s office," Dobson said.
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 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have a notary stamp on his qualifying documents, although this proved inaccurate and Herndon’s challenge of Warren was withdrawn.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 has told his supporters he and his team were in the process of filing an appeal.
“We are confident we will prevail against petty politics,” Owens said on his public Facebook page.
Earlier, Owens had posted he remained the “most qualified” candidate for Cobb sheriff, citing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, law enforcement certifications and 30-year career in law enforcement and the military.
“Sadly, Mr. Herndon chose to litigate rather than stand on his limited credentials,” Owens said on Facebook. “We believe Cobb County deserves better.”
Gilstrap, who also has around three decades of law enforcement experience, took to social media over the weekend to reassure supporters of his continued efforts in the race.
“Herndon is just nitpicking as he has challenged all three other candidates,” Gilstrap wrote Sunday on his public Facebook page. “Our appeal will be timely filed and we will show that we meet all the qualifications to run for sheriff and be back on the ballot for you to show your continuing support for my candidacy.”
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.
The Board of Elections is a five-person body. Their votes to disqualify Gilstrap and Owens were unanimous.
“Since 2000, it’s like every election cycle we have a challenge,” board attorney Gregg Litchfield told the MDJ. “It’s not uncommon.”
Herndon said he did not file the challenges simply to clear the four-man field.
“They’re more than technicalities, these are the bare minimums for you to get in the game,” Herndon said after the hearing. “So it bothers me if you want to be the chief law enforcement officer in this county and you can’t follow one page of instructions. I mean come on, it’s not a lot to ask.”
If the board’s rulings stand, Herndon will be the only Democrat in the May primary race, clearing the way for him to face Warren, a Republican, in the November general election.