GALLIPOLIS — The Gallia County Board of Elections recently decided to uphold the protest brought against Jack G. Rife and his bid for election as the sheriff of Gallia County in the 2012 election.
Rife, who initially filed as a Republican candidate, withdrew his petition as a candidate for sheriff prior to a protest hearing before the board of elections in early January. Rife later refiled as an independent candidate on March 5, a day prior to the primary election, and a protest was brought before the board soon thereafter by Gallia resident Carole Roush.
The protest surrounded Rife’s eligibility to run for sheriff in the State of Ohio. Rife, a Gallia County resident, previously worked for the Santa Ana and San Bernardino Police Departments in California and obtained his Ohio peace officer training certificate through Collins Career Center in Lawrence County.
According to the Ohio Revised Code, a person running for sheriff must have been employed as a full-time peace officer within a four-year period immediately prior to their bid for election and have at least two years of supervisory experience within a five year period of their filing date and/or at least two years of post-secondary education.
During a protest hearing held earlier this month, attorney Dave Riepenhoff, representing the protester in this matter, alleged that Rife, a part-time employee of the police academy at Collins Career Center and a “special” or auxiliary deputy of the Gallia and Lawrence county sheriff’s offices, is not a full-time peace officer, in accordance with the Ohio Revised Code, and is, therefore, not eligible to run for sheriff in Gallia County.
“This case is relatively straightforward. We’re here to discuss whether the employment experience that the prospective candidate has is sufficient for the Ohio Revised Code,” Riepenhoff said. “There are two underlying theories here regarding the experience he identifies on his application: one being that he’s identified himself as a teacher for a career center and teachers are not peace officers under the law; and the second being that he has identifies some auxiliary or special duty experience for the Gallia and Lawrence County Sheriff’s Offices. Special duty, auxiliary officers, as the evidence presents, are volunteer, they are not employees.”
Rife’s counsel, Steve Sloan, cited during this hearing a recent case in Pickaway County, whereby the Ohio Secretary of State broke a tie vote of the Pickaway County elections board, ruling that an independent candidate in that county is qualified to run for sheriff.
“You’re not dealing here solely with an employee versus volunteer. What we have here and what is important is, the fact that Jack [Rife] is on call 24 hours, seven days a week as a deputy sheriff. The authority I have explains, and the Ohio Supreme Court and the Ohio Attorney General have found, that a special deputy sheriff is a deputy sheriff. A deputy sheriff is a peace officer within the State of Ohio,” Sloan said. “A special deputy, under the law in Ohio, is the same as any other deputy and his training is the same as any other deputy. He can be called at anytime to do the duties that are set forth in the Ohio Revised Code for a peace officer.”
Sloan further cited an opinion of the Ohio Attorney General recently filed in a case in which an on-call county employee within Ohio attempted to seek other employment. According to Sloan, the attorney general ruling was that the employee was full-time basis due to the employee’s on-call status.
“If you are on call 24-7, regardless of how many times you are called in, regardless of what you are paid, regardless of what your hours are, if you are on call 24-7, you are a full-time employee, based upon that we believe Jack falls within the statue and we believe he should be on the ballot,” he said.
Following the hearing on May 17, the board of elections deliberated for approximately one hour before returning to the Juvenile-Probate courtroom, where the hearing was held within the Gallia County Courthouse, to report that the board would announce its ruling in this case on May 29.
During Tuesday’s hearing, the board of elections sided with the protester and upheld the argument that Rife is ineligible to run for sheriff within Gallia County in 2012 and will not be found on the ballot this November.