Asks Sheriff to Investigate Police Chief’s Courthouse Visit
Ongoing conflict among law enforcement officials and the Rogers County District Attorney just keeps getting more tangled. It’s a story fiction editors might reject as implausible or too complex – unless it were written with the flair of Shakespeare whose witch in MacBeth chants “fair is foul and foul is fair.”
Back in March, 2013, District Attorney Janice Steidly filed an unusual libel lawsuit against the Claremore Daily Progress’ parent company, publisher, editor and a reporter. Lawsuits by public officials against newspapers are unusual in part because the U.S. Supreme Court in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), set a high threshold for libel against a public official.
Since that ruling, comments about public officials are only considered libelous when malicious intentions are demonstrated by deliberate lies or reckless disregard for truth. The 1964 case stemmed from the Times publication of an ad that incorrectly reported the number of times the late Dr. Martin Luther King had been arrested during civil rights protests.
Officials Split over Bid Splitting Allegations
Now, around the same time Steidley filed the lawsuit against the Claremore newspaper, it turns out her office was also paying the publisher of another newspaper to research and write press releases for her. The PR services included work on some of the same matters for which she sued the Claremore paper.
One count in Steidley’s libel lawsuit challenges a Nov. 15 2012 Daily Progress editorial in which the paper’s editor cites a letter from an investigator assigned by the Oklahoma Attorney General. The letter to Rogers County commissioners states, “Please be advised that after reviewing the OSBI investigation into this matter, it is my opinion that each of you violated the intent of what is commonly called the ‘bid splitting’ law (19 O. S. § 1501(A)(3)(a)) and there is even some evidence that would indicate that each of you did so with specific and knowing intent.”
The Attorney General’s investigator advised Rogers County commissioners that they are “put on notice” that they should contact their local DA’s office before taking such questionable fiscal actions.
The Claremore editor’s opinion column asserts that one of Steidley’s assistant DA’s – David Iski – had already been providing legal advice to county commissioners. The DA’s libel suit objects to the editor’s assertion that Iski had “been allowing them (county commissioners) to break the law time and time again.”
Statements in the Claremore editor’s column about bid splitting “were made with reckless disregard for the truth,” the DA’s lawsuit alleges.
Invoices posted on the Claremore paper’s Web site indicate an Oologah publisher on Jan. 24, 2013 billed the Rogers County DA for “Press release preparation Nov. 15 & 16 Commission bid splitting investigation.”
John Wylie and his wife Faith Wylie own Wylie Communications, Inc. and publish the weekly Oologah Lake Leader. In another document posted on the Daily Progress Web site, Wylie waives fees for a day’s work his wife provided to the DA’s office. The documents summarize about $8,000 in Wylie Communications bills to the District Attorney.
The Daily Progress reported on Oct. 6, 2013 that it learned of the DA’s business relationship with the Wylies in an editor’s disclosure published as a footnote to a March 26, 2013 Oologah Lake Leader story about the DA’s libel suit. The footnote says Wylie Communications “handled media aspects of Janice Steidley’s campaign.”
(Read the Oologah Daily Leader story here.)
Journalism Professionals Decry Ethics Violations
In the same Oct. 6, 2013, article, the Daily Progress quotes Steidley as saying she’s never paid any news organization or journalist to publish or broadcast favorable articles, editorials or stories for the DA’s office.
The Daily Progress‘ article reports that the Society of Professional Journalists’ voluntary code of ethics prohibits a publication from having a PR relationship with a news source. The paper said two former SPJ presidents who had previously led SPJ ethics functions questioned the Oologah publisher’s business relationship with the DA’s office. One was Fred Brown, now a Denver Post columnist and a former SPJ ethics chairman.
“One of responsible journalism’s most important roles is to monitor how the public’s money is spent. This watchdog role is seriously compromised when the supposed watchdog is being paid with tax dollars,” Brown told the Daily Progress.
The Daily Progress‘ Oct. 6, 2013, article was based on a request by Claremore Police Chief Stan Brown to inspect records detailing Steidley’s financial ties with the Wylies.
Meanwhile, the Oologah paper questioned the Claremore police chief’s questions about their ethics – and pilloried the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations’ latest inquiry into Rogers County matters. “Wear your welding glasses when you read it,” the Oologah paper’s Web site said of its publisher’s latest editorial on the matter.
According to the Claremore daily, the Oologah weekly’s Sept. 19, 2013, editorial said Chief Brown and others seeking a grand-jury investigation are “clowns and conspiracy mongers salivating at the idea of getting a new district attorney by underhanded means instead of an election.”
A news item in the Oologah weekly, according to the Claremore daily, quoted the publisher’s wife as saying Chief Brown’s inquiry into financial ties between their company and the DA “was an attempt to intimidate the Wylies ‘while hiding behind a badge, uniform and gun.'”
DA Reviews Courthouse Security Video of Foes
Is your head spinning yet? Wait. There’s more. The Claremore paper reports that the Roger’s County DA asked the Rogers County Sheriff to review video tapes of the Claremore police chief’s trip to the courthouse seeking information on financial ties between the Wylies and the DA. The sheriff declined to investigate the police chief’s trip to the courthouse.
The Claremore paper further reports that it obtained – through a public records request – courthouse video records showing DA Steidley and a Rogers County Human Resources director reviewing other video records. The Claremore paper reported that Steidley was reviewing security video of sponsors filing the petition for a grand jury investigation of her activities as DA.
The Claremore paper reported the petition was filed Oct. 4, 2013, with 7,711 signatures, well in excess of the 4,487 required to initiate the grand jury process. A Grady County judge promptly sealed the signatures at the request of petition sponsor John Singer, a Claremore police detective.
Singer’s motion to seal the signatures says the allegations in the petition include retaliation against critics of the DA’s office, and that various Rogers County citizens have expressed fear of retaliation. He cites an Aug. 27, 2013 KOTV News on 6 interview in which County Commissioner Mike Helm reportedly said, “We aggressively look forward to being vindicated and then taking on the cases for malice, slander and malfeasance.”
Steidley and two assistant DA’s countered with motions asking that the petitions be unsealed. They said they were not notified prior to the order sealing the signatures, and are being deprived an opportunity to contest the signatures.
Steidley also moved to temporarily delay certification of the signatures, and asked Grady County Judge Richard Van Dyck to recuse himself from the case. Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Tim Colbert earlier assigned the case to Van Dyck. A Rogers County judge who had first heard the matter is a relative by marriage of DA Steidley.
Steidley has repeatedly asserted that her challengers are motivated by political ambitions. She told KRMG radio she’s ashamed of some law enforcement personnel for their role in the matter.In her libel lawsuit against the newspaper, she says she and her assistant DA’s “have established reputations for excellence and integrity in their roles as lawyers and public officials.”
John and Faith Wylie in March, 2012 were inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame.
Free Consultation: Rogers County Criminal Defense Attorney
As this blog has stated before, a complex matrix of allegations, counter-allegations and fears of retaliation cast a cloud of doubt over cases moving through Rogers County and Oklahoma’s 10th Judicial District. If you’ve been charged with a crime in Rogers County, contact a qualified Rogers County criminal defense attorney to explore whether conflict among police and prosecutors may be relevant to your case.
If you believe you’ve been charged with a crime as retaliation by any public official, anywhere, contact the Wirth Law Office‘s criminal defense attorneys at (918) 879-1681 or toll free at (888) Wirth-Law. If you prefer written correspondence, you may submit a question through the form at the top right of this page.