The Potential Liabilities for the Catoosa County GOP

O.C.G.A. § 21-2-596. Failure of Public or Political Officer to Perform Duty

Any public officer or any officer of a political party or body on whom a duty is laid by this chapter who willfully neglects or refuses to perform his or her duty shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

For Republicans reacting to the Supreme Court’s 9-0 decision to keep Donald Trump on the Presidential Primary Ballot in Colorado, there is a phrase I keep hearing over and over, “We don’t suspend democracy to save it.”

This does not seem to be the case in Catoosa County, GA where, as Scot has already posted, the GOP Establishment has denied several candidates and incumbents from filing for election/re-election based on the Georgia Republican Assembly’s (GRA) so-called “Accountability Rule,” which I have already discussed in depth here and here.

While three County GOP organizations, Pickens, Chattooga, and Catoosa, all counties in rural Northwest Georgia, have passed the rule, only one, Catoosa, seems to be following it (which makes it seem like Pickens’s and Chattooga’s announcement of the imposition of their Accountability Rules were simply full of sound and fury signifying nothing).

But Catoosa has decided to take the legal advice of Alex Johnson, who, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is serving as legal counsel to the Catoosa GOP, and deny several candidates the right to qualify for the primary ballot, including at least three incumbent county commissioners.

Steven Henry, the former Chair of the County Commission, who resigned from office to run for the State Senate, eventually losing to GRA darling Colton Moore in the primary, showed up Monday to try to win back his Chairmanship.

The Catoosa County Republican Party refused to allow him to qualify, (they also refused to allow incumbent Republican Commission Chairman Larry Black to qualify for re-election) so Henry’s next stop was an emergency hearing in the Superior Court. The AJC’s Greg Bluestein reports, “A judge blocked the Catoosa County GOP on Tuesday from enforcing a new policy that gives party leaders the final say on whether candidates for county office are eligible to run as Republicans. Superior Court Judge Don Thompson’s decision came after at least two county commissioners and a former commissioner were denied a spot on the GOP primary ballot by party officials.”

As neither a representative for the Catoosa County GOP nor their attorney, Alex Johnson, showed up to defend the Party’s indefensible actions, the Judge issued an order to the GOP to qualify Henry. Sources close to the situation have informed me, and the AJC has verified, that the Catoosa County Republican Party still denied to qualify Henry despite the Judge’s order.

If this is true, and the Catoosa County GOP leadership is refusing to comply with a court order, then the leaders themselves are putting a lot on the line personally in order to act in the same manner of petty tyrants as they would claim the Democrats in Colorado or Maine were acting as to keep Donald Trump off the ballot.

First off, the Parties have a duty under state law to qualify candidates. If they are indeed denying a judge’s order and still refusing to qualify candidates, then there are not just civil penalties, but criminal penalties as well. As noted at the beginning of this article, failure to perform a duty by any officer of a political party official is a misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to $1,000 fine and/or 12 months in jail. As currently there are four candidates seeking to qualify who are being denied, that could be four potential sentences. It’s not clear if Catoosa County GOP Chair Joanna Hildreth and the other officers are prepared to pay $4,000 in fines and spend four years in jail should they be prosecuted, found guilty, and given consecutive sentences, but I doubt that was part of the potential risks articulated to the Catoosa leadership by their attorney, Mr. Johnson.

There is also the potential liability of the Catoosa GOP and, if the Party does not have enough funds, the officers individually and severally, to pay any potential legal fees and court costs because the Catoosa County Republican Party has not availed itself of the protection of a corporate shield.

A little more than a decade ago, it was considered a best practice to incorporate party organizations to protect the officers, members, and their assets from liability. This was to insure at if a person was injured at a GOP event or through GOP activities, the corporation would have the liability rather than the officers of the organization.

However, times have changed. Along with the local Accountability Rules, the extremists in the local GOP have formed a conspiracy around incorporation as well, believing it to be a way of insuring that Brian Kemp would own the GOP lock, stock, and barrel. Of course, Kemp’s electronic signature was on every organization that incorporated in the State of Georgia during his tenure as Secretary of State as Brad Raffensperger’s is now and Karen Handel’s was before Kemp’s.

If this goes south for the Catoosa GOP leadership, and it is likely that it will, I hope they take their attorney to court for malpractice as Alex Johnson should be the one to bear the liability of the asinine legal theories he and the GRA have been advocating. To punctuate the point, Mr. Johnson highlighted the Wyoming GOP’s resolution ousting Rep. Liz Cheney from the Republican Party as justification and “legal precedent” for Catoosa blocking candidates. However, Cheney was not blocked from re-election by the Party. It was the VOTERS of Wyoming who knocked her out of office in the GOP primary.

Sadly, it may be the Catoosa County GOP leaders who will bear the consequences of his and the GRA’s crusade. As the Georgia Republican Party could have, but failed to rein in these three counties as both the Rules of the Georgia Republican Party and state law allows, State Party Chair Josh McKoon should share some of the liability as well for failure to act. Luckily for him, the GAGOP is incorporated.

NOTE: This post has been updated to add information about the 2022 Wyoming Primary.

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