Catoosa Judge Backs Off of Forcing the County GOP to Qualify RINO Candidates

Catoosa Judge Backs Off of Forcing the County GOP to Qualify RINO Candidates

Ringgold, GA — In spite of severe threats to intimidate and coerce, none of the brave Catoosa GOP leaders were forced to spend time in jail as a result of their refusal to obey an unlawful order from a local judge attempting to force them to qualify RINO candidates. For the third time this week, Judge Don W. Thompson‘s bias was on full display this morning as he refused to let the Catoosa County GOP present any oral arguments in legal defense of their decision not to qualify these candidates as Republicans in the Republican Primary for county commissioner. The first courtroom hearing was held at 9:00 am Tuesday morning, but the Catoosa GOP’s attorneys were not made aware of the first hearing until it had already happened. The judge at that time ordered the Catoosa GOP to allow the candidates to qualify as Republicans in the primary.

Watch this video summary of what is really happening with the Catoosa County qualifying controversy.
Joanna Hildreth happily wrapping up candidate qualifying for the Catoosa GOP

No one was preventing them from running as a Democrat, third-party, or Independent. They were simply denied the Republican label. The Democratic Party of Chattooga County rejected a candidate seeking to run as a Democrat commissioner back in 2014, thereby setting a precedent for this decision.

The Catoosa GOP had previously adopted a rule that invites candidates to be interviewed, and their voting records in office examined, along with their public statements, prior to the members of the Executive Committee holding a vote to qualify. The votes were cast by secret ballot. Those who were allowed to qualify were issued affidavits, in accordance with the rules of the local party. In the view of the majority of the members of the Catoosa GOP Executive Committee, four candidates, with a voting history from previously serving on the county commission, advanced several policies contrary to the principles and policies specified in the Republican Party platform. The four candidates are Vanita Hullander, Jeff LongSteven Henry and Larry Black.

GRA President Nathaniel Darnell

“When you do things such as pass two tax increases, pass restrictions on citizens’ raising chickens on their private property, publicly endorse a Democrat, and tell folks that they can only get their freedom back if they get a COVID vaccine,” said GRA President Nathaniel Darnell, “you shouldn’t be surprised when the local GOP leadership considers you a RINO and doesn’t want to re-qualify you to run as Republican with their stamp of approval.”

While these candidates complained that the Catoosa County GOP leadership was trying to help their favored candidates, that accusation was disproven when the Catoosa GOP qualified two or more candidates for the same race for various seats. The Catoosa GOP clearly stated, “The Catoosa County Republican Party proudly welcomes all county citizens who share our common conservative values and support our Republican principles.”


Judge Thompson held a second hearing at 1:00 pm Thursday, but again the judge refused to allow the Catoosa GOP’s attorneys to present oral arguments. Instead, the judge only allowed the attorneys for the complaining candidates to cross examine Catoosa GOP Chairman Joanna Hildreth on the witness stand. Three of their five attorneys took turns hammering her, demanding that she identify the names of the other members of her Executive Committee, and asking how she personally voted in the secret ballot. One attorney accused her of “celebrating” the denial of the candidates at her monthly county GOP meeting Monday evening, even though the matter never was mentioned at all there.

At the conclusion of that second hearing, Judge Thompson offered to let the attorneys for the Catoosa GOP call for other witnesses. When attorney Catherine Bernard said they had no other witnesses, the judge proceeded to give his ruling. Bernard attempted to interject, asking why they had not been given an opportunity to present closing oral arguments on the legal merits of their client’s position. The Judge said he was in the middle of his ruling, and would not be interrupted.

Police deputies leave the Catoosa GOP qualifying office after an attempt was made to intimidate them into qualifying the RINOs as Republicans.

He doubled-down on his order to the Catoosa County GOP, specifying that each of the six members of the Catoosa GOP Executive Committee would be fined $1,000 per hour for each of the four rejected candidates, and face up to 20 days of jail time, until the candidates were allowed to quality as Republicans in the primary. Yes, these courageous GOP volunteers were staring jail time in the face, all for standing on the constitutional right of freedom of association, that says government may not force a private entity to associate with someone against their will. He also specified that two police deputies wearing body cams would accompany the candidates as they attempted again to qualify.

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Attorneys helping the Catoosa GOP: Alex Johnson, David Oles, and Catherine Bernard

As he was concluding Thursday, the Judge remarked to the attorneys for the RINO candidates that he didn’t think the Catoosa GOP would comply, and so he asked if they had any other remedies that could be pursued. Attorney Bryan Tyson replied that there was no other way they could qualify apart from the Catoosa GOP complying because state code O.C.G.A. § 21-2-153(c)(2) specifies the local board of elections office can only qualify if a three-day notice requirement is met, but there was only one more day left to qualify.

After the second hearing adjourned, the four candidates did attempt once again to show up at the Catoosa GOP qualifying office and demand to be approved. They were accompanied by the police deputies. The volunteer notary on duty said she could not allow them to qualify without the affidavit required by the rules.

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Since their effort to intimidate the GOP leaders failed, Tyson and the other opposing attorneys showed up Friday morning in court in Catoosa and contradicted their admission from the previous day that they had no recourse to go around the county party. The Judge ruled in favor of that approach, and told the opposing counsel to draft the order, and let him approve it for issue. The written order admits that they are violating the notice requirements in the state code, but alleges that they have no choice but to break the law.

Many wondered if any of the Catoosa GOP leadership would be arrested at the third hearing. No arrests were ordered, but a new hearing has been scheduled for March 27th.

Before the written order had been drafted, approved by the judge, and issued for the Catoosa GOP to be able to respond with any contrary motions, the local elections superintendent had already acted to qualify the the complaining candidates. It is yet to be seen whether a majority of the Catoosa Board of Elections will vote to approve the qualifying as Republicans in the primary or deem it to be against the law. If they do approve, then there will be other legal remedies available. The Catoosa GOP pledged to continue to work with their legal counsel to appeal Judge’s Thompson’s order and take the case before a different court.

Support the Catoosa County Republican Party in this law-fare case by donating to their GiveSendGo here:

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