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Hearing will determine if Jeffrey Sosebee can run for Hall County sheriff
Fingerprints for qualifying weren't submitted to proper authorities
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Hall County Elections Board hearing

What: Hearing to determine if Jeffrey Sosebee has properly qualified to run for Hall County sheriff in the May Republican primary

When: 2 p.m. Friday

Where: Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville

The Hall County Elections Board will meet Friday to determine if Jeffrey Sosebee is eligible to run for sheriff.

Sosebee, a military veteran and former K-9 officer with the Sheriff’s Office, threw his name into the Republican primary earlier this month.

But it turns out that he did not submit his fingerprints for a criminal background check to the proper authorities. And the deadline for doing so has expired.

“One of those qualifications is to be fingerprinted at the direction of the judge of the (Hall County) Probate Court, who will then conduct a search of local, state and national fingerprint files for the purpose of disclosing any criminal record involving a potential candidate,” Elections Director Charlotte Sosebee (no relation) wrote in a recent letter informing Sosebee of a challenge to his candidacy. “This requirement must be completed within three days following the close of the qualification period.”

The candidate qualifying period ended March 11.

Sosebee had his fingerprints taken with the Gainesville Police Department instead, a potential administrative error that could cost him a chance to run to be the top elected law enforcement officer in Hall County.

In a Facebook post March 18, Sosebee acknowledged the controversy, dismissed his critics and implied he had nothing to hide.

Well, we encountered another day of opposing forces,” he wrote. “The complaint … is only technical, but we will go through the process. Being Sheriff is about finding appropriate solutions to issues following protocols, but common sense, as well. Fingerprints are now the issue. You can’t change them or mess them up. My prints are available and on record.”

If the elections board rules against Sosebee, that decision can be appealed by filing a petition with the Superior Court of Hall County.

Incumbent Sheriff Gerald Couch, in a statement from his campaign released Monday afternoon, denied allegations that he is the one challenging the legitimacy of Sosebee’s candidacy.

“There is a group of former Hall County Sheriff’s Office employees who are putting false information into the community, all with the intent of pointing fingers at me,” Couch said. “I welcome criticism, but not when it’s based on falsehoods and done with harmful language aimed at the men and women who put their lives on the line every day for Hall County.”

Graham McKinnon IV, a partner with the law offices of Fox, Chandler, Homans, Hicks & McKinnon, LLP in Gainesville, filed the challenge in a March 17 letter to the elections board.

McKinnon said he filed an amendment to that letter on Monday afternoon to clarify the argument that Sosebee should be disqualified from running.  

But it was Carl Liggett, a retired local businessman who has long been active in local Republican politics, who first brought the issue to the public’s attention.

Couch, meanwhile, said he welcomed the competition in the campaign for sheriff, and would support whatever decision the elections board makes, but criticized Sosebee for failing to meet the letter of the law in qualifying for office.

He said if Sosebee were elected and later found to have not properly qualified, the legitimacy of arrests, search warrants and formal charges could be challenged.

“If you can’t comply with this particular law, how can the community expect you to uphold the laws that require immense interpretation and understanding, and are full of intricate details and many technicalities?” Couch asked rhetorically.

In an interview with The Times late Monday, Sosebee said he specifically asked about whether he was submitting his fingerprints the right way and was given the indication that everything was above board.

“We left pretty confident that we had done everything correct,” he said.

A week later the call came that his qualifying application had been challenged.

Sosebee said that because this is his first time running for political office, he wished the Hall County GOP, of which he is a member, would have provided better assistance.

“My own party didn’t let me know it wasn’t correct,” he said.

Sosebee said he hopes the elections board will hear his case and put his name on the ballot despite the current hang-up.

“I am looking to improve the morale of the department, support our law enforcement professionals and provide the best service to the citizens of the county,” he said.

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