Felony prevents candidate from running for Peach coroner, board rules

Telegraph correspondentOctober 15, 2012 

FORT VALLEY -- Peach County coroner candidate Otis Daniel Jr. will not be allowed to run in November’s election following a decision Monday by the county’s board of elections.

The board conducted a hearing about a challenge that Daniel was ineligible to run for coroner due to a 1972 felony conviction. He was later pardoned.

During the hearing, Jeff Liipfert, Peach County attorney, advised the elections board that state law does not allow anyone with a prior felony conviction to run for certain offices, including coroner.

Liipfert said under state law, persons with felony convictions cannot be elected as sheriff. He said if a sheriff must leave office before his term expires, he is replaced by the coroner.

Liipfert said state legislators used the same language in describing qualifications for candidates for coroner as for sheriffs, and that the law, with its felony restriction, was upheld by the Georgia Supreme Court regarding a Crawford County sheriff’s race in 1980.

Daniel said he will appeal the board’s decision to Superior Court within 10 days as is provided under law.

Larry Pearce, chairman of the Peach County Board of Elections, said in the hearing the question over Daniel’s candidacy came through the office of Secretary of State Brian Kemp in a letter dated Oct. 10. Tony West, of Fort Valley, filed the complaint, according to a document from Kemp’s office.

Daniel, a Democrat, was to face Republican incumbent Kerry E. Rooks in the Nov. 6 election for coroner.

Daniel said Monday he did not disclose the felony on his candidate qualification application because of a 1988 pardon that restored certain rights, including political rights and the right to generally run for public office.

Daniel held it was his understanding the pardon made declaring the felony unnecessary because, in his view, the “charges were dismissed” by the state pardons and parole board.

Liipfert said the question before the board did not have to do with whether Daniel disclosed the felony on the qualification application but rather the fact that state law prohibits a felon from seeking the coroner’s office and, in his view, the pardon did not change Daniel’s eligibility.

He told Daniel state law did not prohibit him from running for other offices, even that of governor.

Pearce said he believed Daniel provided information on the application “in good faith,” but the board had to decide the matter according to state law as they understood it.

The five-member board voted to disallow Daniel’s candidacy with all but one member, Elizabeth White, voting to do so.

Eloise Simmons, a Daniel supporter, said she believed members of the elections board had come to the hearing with their minds made up. More than a dozen Daniel supporters were at the hearing and voiced opposition to Daniel not being allowed on the ballot.

Joe Wilder, Peach County clerk of courts, previously told The Telegraph that records show Daniel served probation for a 1972 burglary. Daniel’s 1988 pardon states his offense as “theft by receiving stolen property” with “12 months probation” and a “$250 fine.”

During the hearing, various board members, Daniel, and others acknowledged the incident occurred when Daniel was 17 years old.

Contact Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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