Supreme Court Affirms Sheriffs’ Right To Select Employees

On January 29, 2016 the Supreme Court of North Carolina issued opinions in three cases that are of critical importance to the Office of Sheriff and the citizens of North Carolina. In these unanimous opinions, authored by Justice Robert H. Edmunds, Jr., the court settled the issue of an elected sheriff’s ability to hire and retain deputies, and other policy making employees, that are loyal to and supportive of the sheriff’s administration. The Supreme Court recognized the indispensable need for a sheriff to select deputies that support the elected sheriff’s policies.
These three cases are McLaughlin and Stanley v. Bailey, __ N.C. __ (2016) (163A15, January 29, 2016); Young v. Bailey, __ N.C. __ (2016) (355PA14-2, January 29, 2016); and Lloyd v. Bailey, __ N.C. __ (2016) (181PA15, January 29, 2016).
In these three cases, four justice officers (detention officers and deputies) brought wrongful dismissal lawsuits against former Sheriff “Chipp” Bailey (Mecklenburg County) alleging they were improperly fired for not supporting Sheriff Bailey during the 2010 election. The Supreme Court of North Carolina heard oral arguments in these cases on December 7, 2015 at a hearing that was attended by many North Carolina Sheriffs in support of former Sheriff Bailey. The issues that were to be decided by the Supreme Court were whether N.C. Gen. Stat. § 153A-99 (County Employee Political Activity) applied to the employees of a sheriff’s office and whether the North Carolina Constitution allows a sheriff to consider a person’s political loyalty when determining whom to employ as a deputy sheriff.
The Supreme Court of North Carolina unanimously ruled in favor of former Sheriff Bailey in all three of these lawsuits. Two critical decisions were made by the Supreme Court in these opinions:
• A sheriff’s office is not a program or department of county government. Therefore, deputy sheriffs and other employees of a sheriff’s office are not county employees for purposes of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 153A-99 (County Employee Political Activity) and are not governed by any of the provisions of that statute.
• Additionally, the Supreme Court held that deputy sheriffs could be lawfully dismissed by a sheriff based on political considerations. The Supreme Court said, in part, “…by standing in the elected sheriff’s shoes, a deputy sheriff fills a role in which loyalty to the elected sheriff is necessary to ensure that the sheriff’s policies are carried out.”
It should be noted that while the plaintiffs in these lawsuits claimed they were improperly fired for not contributing to Sheriff Bailey’s re-election campaign, there was no finding that these plaintiffs were dismissed for not contributing. Rather, the Supreme Court looked at a sheriff’s critical need to have deputies who are loyal to the sheriff as an elected official and who will carry out the policies of the sheriff’s office.
These court decisions are not so much a victory for the sheriffs as they are a victory for the citizens of North Carolina. These court decisions ensure that when the people of a county elect a sheriff, the sheriff has a right to employ deputies that will be loyal to that sheriff and will carry out the mandate of the citizens as expressed by their selection of their county sheriff. This demonstrates one reason why the founders of our State made the Office of Sheriff a constitutionally created office accountable directly to the citizens of the county.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email