UPDATE: Lawsuit’s end? Hearing this afternoon

By DEUCE NIVEN

tribdeuce@tabor-loris.com

UPDATE: Friday morning

     Formal action ending former Sheriff Lewis Hatcher’s lawsuit against new Sheriff Jody Greene and Columbus County could happen in a Whiteville courtroom this afternoon.

     Superior Court Judge A. Graham Shirley of Wake County is expected to keep a scheduled 2:30 p.m. hearing schedule in Columbus County Superior Court in Whiteville, Clerk of Court Jess Hill said Friday morning.

     That hearing had been scheduled to hear motions in advance of a bench trial to consider the lawsuit against Greene starting Monday. But mediation Thursday resulted in an agreement between Hatcher and Greene that involves Hatcher dismissing his lawsuit, Greene taking a leave of absence until the state Board of Elections decides on protest appeals stemming from last November’s general election.

     Capt. Jason Soles, who has led the sheriff’s Criminal Investigations Division under both Hatcher and Greene, will assume day-to-day command of the sheriff’s office, a statement released on behalf of both Hatcher and Greene said.

     Look for updates on this story as events warrant, and the full story in the next Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.

UPDATE:

     Capt. Jason Soles, not Chief Deputy Aaron Herring, will assume day-to-day command of the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office until the State Board of Elections considers and rules on protests of last November’s sheriff’s election.

     Attorney for Jody Greene, who was sworn as sheriff last Dec. 3, and previous sheriff Lewis Hatcher, released identical statements Thursday night.

     That statement released on behalf of Greene and Hatcher, reads:

     “Worley’s statement, which he said was on behalf of Greene and Hatcher, is presented in its entirety below:

     “On February 7, 2019, Lewis Hatcher and Jody Greene entered into a confidential agreement resolving the pending litigation, which was necessitated by unprecedented circumstances in Raleigh related to the lack of a sitting State Board of Elections – circumstances which were not the fault of either Lewis Hatcher or Jody Greene.

     “Although the terms of the settlement will remain confidential, the spirt of the agreement is not. Lewis Hatcher and Jody Greene jointly arrived at this agreement in order to set an example for the citizens of Columbus County that there is more that unites our county than divides it. By resolving their disputes and differences Lewis Hatcher and Jody Greene have placed their faith and trust with the State Board of Elections.

     “To that end, Lewis Hatcher has agreed to take a voluntary dismissal of his lawsuit, while Jody Greene agrees that Captain Jason Soles will assume the day to day responsibilities of the office while this matter is pending before the State Board of Elections. This resolution ensures continuity within the Columbus County Sheriff’s Department while awaiting the ultimate decision with the State Board of Elections and ensures that the Columbus County Sheriff’s Department will continue to serve and protect the citizens of Columbus County.”

     Look for more on this story as events warrant and the full story in the next Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.

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     A lawsuit seeking to remove Jody Greene as Columbus County Sheriff has been dismissed by former sheriff Lewis Hatcher, with Greene’s chief Deputy Aaron Herring to take command of the agency, for now, The News Reporter in Whiteville reported Thursday night.

     Columbus County Commissioners Chairman Trent Burroughs was cited by the newspaper and WWAY in Wilmington saying that Hatcher had agreed to dismiss his lawsuit, and that as part of the deal Greene would step down as sheriff while a State Board of Elections decision on the outcome of the November 2018 election is pending.

     County Manager Mike Stephens and County Attorney Amanda Prince, both in Chapel Hill for a conference Thursday, were not aware of the decision, Stephens said.

     Commissioner Ricky Bullard said he had not been informed of the decision, either.

     Efforts to contact Burroughs and others involved were not successful Thursday night.

     Stephens said attorney’s for all involved in the lawsuit, including Norwood Blanchard of Wilmington who represents the commissioners, were scheduled to meet for mediation Thursday.

     “It sounds like maybe there were able to resolve it there,” Stephens said.

     The dismissal by Hatcher was with prejudice, the Whiteville newspaper reported, which means it cannot be relitigated.

     Protests of the November election were denied by the Columbus County Board of Elections late that month, with Greene sworn in as sheriff on Dec. 3, 2018. Appeals of those protests were filed with the state board two days later.

     Hatcher’s lawsuit argued that Greene should not have been sworn until those protests were heard by the state board and decided there, and that should never have left office. A spokesman from the state Board of Elections also said Greene should not have been sworn until the appeals process was complete.

     Hatcher, in his lawsuit, said that county commissioners failed in their duty by not removing Greene from office.

     An opinion from the Institute of Governments at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, however, said that commissioners had no legal authority to remove a sworn sheriff, although the county board has an obligation to name a replacement when the sheriff’s post becomes vacant.

     This is a developing story. See updates here as events warrant, and the full story in the next Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.