There’s a Recurring Republican Sheriff in Town


Sheriffs tend to be popular political figures – even in New Jersey where they are not the ultimate law of the land.

That seems doubly true in Morris County where there have been only three sheriffs in almost 50 years. And that trend is unlikely to end anytime soon.

Republican James Gannon, who has had the job since 2017, may very well be running for reelection unopposed.

Morris County Democrats held their nominating convention on Sunday and endorsed three candidates for county commissioner. But the man who was expected to seek the sheriff’s seat changed his mind at the last minute. There was no replacement.

A Democrat, or for that matter even a Republican primary candidate, can still file to challenge Gannon by the April 4 deadline, but that’s probably unlikely.

Chip Robinson, the county Democratic chair, said in a text message, “At this point we are focused on the congressional races for Tom and Mikie, the county commissioners’ race and our local municipal races.”

Tom, as in Tom Malinowski, has a tough battle on his hands in CD-7, presumably with Thomas H. Kean Jr. Not so much Mikie, as in Mikie Sherrill, in a redrawn and more Democratic-leaning CD-11.

Gannon tries hard to be as bipartisan as possible, knowing that a law enforcement agency should not get entangled in political fights. He said this morning that he’s “humbled” to have the job that he has. Rather than politics, he was happier to talk about this week’s fifth anniversary of Hope One, a mobile recovery access unit that travels the county to help people struggling with addiction and other mental health needs.

The three commission candidates endorsed by the Dems on Sunday were T.C. McCourt, Judy Hernandez and Alicia Sharma.

McCourt ran last year for commission, losing by about 28,000 votes, Hernandez lost a bid for the Parsippany council by about 700 votes.

All three candidates have a history of public service.

McCourt is on the Dover Planning Board and Sharma is on the Mount Olive Library Board of Trustees. Hernandez worked with a “Parsippany Green Team” with the goal of making the township carbon neutral by 2030.

Republicans had a spirited convention fight for the party’s commissioner endorsements.

Left standing were incumbent Doug Cabana, former commission Christine Myers and Sarah Neibart, who serves on the governing body in Mendham Township.

Incumbent Tom Mastrangelo was not endorsed by the GOP committee for another term and it’s unknown if he will run again.

The understatement of the day is that Democrats have had a tough time winning freeholder/commissioner elections in Morris. They won once – with Doug Romaine back during the Watergate era.

The county is changing politically, as you can see with two Democratic House members. But so far, change has its limits.

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One response to “There’s a Recurring Republican Sheriff in Town”

  1. What do you think about when you hear the word “Sheriff”?

    Most people associate the word with the Old West of the 1800s, with places like Dodge City, Kansas and Tombstone, Arizona, and the exploits of Wyatt Earp (who actually was a US Marshall, not a sheriff), his brothers, Doc Holliday, and the famous “Gunfight at the OK Corral”.

    But unless you’ve visited a county courthouse or jail in New Jersey, you might not even know that Sheriff’s officers exist.  And maybe they shouldn’t–in title, that is.

    Now, this is not meant to impugn the dedication and hard work of the 21 County Sheriff’s departments in the Garden State.  However, these law enforcement agencies perform some functions that are better done by others.  Among the many functions performed by County Sheriffs include providing security for judges, courthouse staff and the public, transporting criminal defendants to/from jail to attend court hearings and trials, serving legal process, enforcing civil judgments, and conducting judicial sales in foreclosure.  They also have the authority to investigate crimes and make arrests–and that is one of the major conflicts of interest that bears review.

    Courts are, by constitutional definition, a place of neutrality.  Criminal defendants are innocent until proven guilty.  But it’s possible–if not likely–that the sheriff’s officer who arrested you could be the person supervising the courtroom where your trial is held.  And if not that officer, than one of his colleagues who no doubt would be aware of the actions of their brother officer.  That would seem to throw neutrality out of the courtroom.

    And those same officers provide security at the building entrances, which means they have the authority to inspect anything brought into the courthouse.  Now, it’s fine that they’re looking out for weapons, drugs or other contraband, but there have been documented cases of defense attorneys having their papers–which include trial notes–inspected.  So an opportunistic officer could pass information along to the prosecutor.  It has happened before.

    And why are sheriff’s officers in charge of county jails?  New Jersey, the same as other states, have a Department of Corrections, whose officers are on the front lines 24/7/365 guarding New Jersey’s inmates.  Why shouldn’t they be tasked with County jails as well?  (I’ll deal with the staffing question shortly).

    And the non-court functions, such as serving legal papers, foreclosure sales, etc., can be handled by civil personnel–who can, if necessary, be aided by local law enforcement.

    In short, County sheriff’s departments have become obsolete, extraneous, and anachronistic.  They have outlived their usefulness.

    But I’m not suggesting that anyone should lose their jobs, nor am I joining the “defund the police” cry popular among certain people.  There’s a better way, and we only need to look to the north to find it.

    In New York, the Department of Public Safety, headed by the Chief of Public Safety, is responsible for developing uniform guidelines, policies, and procedures for ensuring safety throughout the State Court System. It oversees the implementation of emergency preparedness planning and procedures in the courts. This includes the completion of emergency plans for each court location, as well as conducting and reviewing evacuation drills. The Chief of Public Safety also oversees the management of judicial threats, reviews and assists in the development of security planning for new and existing facilities, and is responsible for developing standards and curricula for the Court Officers Academy and for the Court Officers Rules and Procedures Manual. The Department also serves as a liaison between the law enforcement and public safety community, at the local, state and federal levels.

    Establishing a similar department, and transitioning sheriff’s officers there, would remove their law enforcement and investigation responsibilities, which are best handled by local and state police.  Those officers wishing to remain in a county jail function could transition to the Department of Corrections, and those desiring a law enforcement position could apply to a police department.  So no one needs to lose their job, and their prior experience would be an asset in their new position.

    As for the elected county sheriffs–they can still transition to a senior position in whichever agency they wish to transition to.  If their ambitions are truly political, they can leave law enforcement and run for office.  Police shouldn’t be politicians, after all.  Choose a door and enter it.

    It’s time for New Jersey to leave the old west behind–except, of course, at Wild West City in Stanhope, where you really CAN go back to Dodge City with sheriffs and gunslingers.   As for real life–we don’t need them.

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