Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March 17, 2010 County Attorney Advises Sheriff Jarnagin: Deputies Covered under Civil Service Can Not Run for Office

In their online editions, the News-Sentinel (here) and the local "news"paper (here) reported late yesterday that Sheriff Esco Jarnagin informed three deputies running for office to resign or face termination.  The local "news"paper stated that Jarnagin took the action as a result of a recent Attorney General's Opinion and upon the advice of County Attorney Rusty Cantwell.

The News-Sentinel noted that the Federal Hatch Act may also apply and prohibit deputies from running for partisan office. The Federal Hatch Act can apply to local and state employees where federal funding is involved. Click here.  How the Federal Hatch Act prohibits local and state employees from running for partisan office is here.

I mentioned the recent Attorney General's Opinion last week (here) and reported on similar prior opinions going back to October 2009 here and here. All said the same thing. The state law, as it is written, says that those covered under the Sheriff's Civil Service Act of 1974 obtain a measure of job protection and other benefits but they also give up the right to run for office.

Two deputies (Ernie Burzell and Roy Rucker) were running for Sheriff in Hamblen County. One (David Kitts) was running for office in Jefferson County. Apparently all three refused to resign and were terminated. 

As I have mentioned before, Attorney General's Opinion have persuasive authority but only a court of law can declare precisely what the law is, either rendering a decision that, in effect, upholds the AG's opinion or rendering a decision that has the effect of finding that the opinion is incorrect or that the law itself is unconstitutional.

Where the Civil Service Act has been adopted, many Sheriffs across the state have been forced to fire deputies who did not resign in order to run for office. It is unfortunate that the county attorney did not provide advice on this matter back when the October 2009 attorney general's opinion came out saying deputies covered by the Civil Service Act can not run for sheriff.

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