Judge rules on Anson County Sheriff’s lawsuit, current sheriff will remain in office

Published: May. 8, 2023 at 6:15 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The question of who is the legal sheriff in Anson County has been answered, at least for the time being after a judge issued a ruling on a months-long legal battle on Monday.

Anson County Attorney Scott Forbes said it’s his understanding that Sheriff Scott Howell is the legally recognized sheriff after the judge dismissed the case brought by Gerald Cannon.

Forbes said the judge heard all arguments from all parties and dismissed the case because the plaintiff failed to meet the burden of proof.

Despite the ruling, Forbes said he expects Cannon’s attorneys to file an appeal with the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The lawsuit stems from two different appointments made by the Anson County Board of Commissioners --- one on Dec. 5, 2022; the other on Dec. 6, 2022.

Two sheriff’s in one county?

Howell served as Anson County’s Chief Deputy but after the death of former Sheriff Landric Reid in September of 2022, he was appointed as sheriff for the remainder of Reid’s term which expired in 2022 --- Reid was running for reelection.

Due to the timing of Reid’s death, it was too late to take his name off the ballot and Reid was reelected. Typically, when a candidate dies before an election state law says it is up to the local party to which the candidate belonged to fill the vacancy.

The Anson County Democratic Party (ACDP) nominated Cannon during a meeting but that nomination was challenged at the state level and the NC Democratic Party Council of Review declared the nomination invalid.

“The Council ordered, in part, that the October 8, 2022, meeting of the Anson County Democratic Party Executive Committee and all votes taken at that meeting shall be and are declared invalid. The selection of Mr. Gerald Cannon as the Anson County Democratic Party nominee for Sheriff shall be voided and set aside pending further action by the Executive Committee,” according to a statement by the ACDP.

Due to those challenges and the fact that Reid was reelected in November and the elections were already certified the question of who would become sheriff was unanswered.

In a last-minute move, County Commissioners appointed Cannon as sheriff during an emergency meeting on December 5 --- hours before newly elected county commissioners would take their oaths of office --- and outgoing commissioners would no longer hold office.

The next day the board, including the newly-elected commissioners, held a vote of their own appointing Howell to the office instead, prompting the lawsuit.

Forbes said the order from the judge has not yet been signed but expects it to be written by Howell’s attorney in the coming days. Once that order is written the parties and the judge will review it and sign it if there is agreement.

Forbes said he’s been told Cannon’s attorneys plan to appeal the decision to the NC Court of Appeals after that order is issued.