AG’s Office Takes Over as Board Counsel
Lame duck Rogers County District Attorney Janice Steidley may continue to represent the State of Oklahoma in criminal matters until her four-year term ends Dec. 31, 2014, but her office can no longer act as legal counsel for the county whose voters elected her in 2010. Why? It’s all those lawsuits she has filed along with some of her assistants.
One of the assistant DAs who filed a private defamation lawsuit with Steidley also serves as legal counsel to the Rogers County Board of Commissioners in his official capacity. One of the commissioners filed a very similar libel lawsuit.
Steidley and two of her assistants first filed two defamation lawsuits against some of the people behind a petition drive seeking a grand jury investigation of the DA’s office in Rogers County in October, 2013. Along with Assistant District Attorney David Iski, she filed a second libel action against other petition organizers in Tulsa County District Court in August, 2014.
Petitioners gathered signatures from about 10 percent of Roger’s County’s adult population. Petition organizers named in the District Attorney’s extracurricular lawsuits include Claremore Police Department Detective John Singer, Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton and former special judge Erin O’Quin, who challenged Steidley in a June primary for the DA’s office. Walton and two other defendants later reached a settlement.
The District Attorney has also filed a libel lawsuit the Claremore Daily Progress – the daily newspaper in Rogers County. Steidley’s allegations in that lawsuit involve the newspaper’s criticism of the way Steidley’s office advised Rogers County commissioners.
Rogers County voters ousted Steidley in a June 24, 2014 primary. She received less than 13 percent of the vote. Her Aug. 25, 2014 libel lawsuit blames what she called a defamatory petition drive for the loss.
Because of conflicts of interest arising from her unofficial lawsuits, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt disqualified Steidley from providing advice to the Rogers County board. Rogers County board chairman Dan DeLozier asked the AG’s office to step in because the board had lost confidence in advice the DA provides.
Private Business Off Limits in Board’s Secret Sessions
According to the Claremore Daily Progress, Rogers County board chairman Dan DeLozier asked the AG’s office to take over after Iski advised commissioners to enter an executive session to discuss civil litigation between commissioner Kirt Thacker and sheriff Scott Walton. Elected officials are only allowed to meet in secretive executive session for narrowly prescribed reasons.
Thacker on Aug. 25, 2014 filed a libel suit against petition organizers, making allegations similar to those in Steidley’s libel actions. Some of the language in the lawsuit Thacker filed against Walton was identical to language in the lawsuit Iski and Steidley filed against some of the same defendants on the same day.
Key Filings in Libel Lawsuits by Steidley, Iski and Thacker (pdf):
The Daily Progress reported Iski advised commissioners to hold a closed meeting about the litigation without an attorney present. One of the few reasons a county commission may hold a closed executive session is to discuss “confidential communications between a public body and its attorney” Okla. Stat. tit. 25 § 307(B)(4)
Free Consultation: Rogers County Criminal Attorneys
While the AG has taken no action to stop Steidley and assistants who filed private lawsuits against Rogers County residents from performing their official actions as prosecutors, the lengthy controversy can cast clouds over criminal prosecutions. Whenever law enforcement and prosecutors are at odds, there are reasons to ask whether the in fighting might affect criminal prosecutions.
If you are a defendant in a Rogers County criminal case, or otherwise involved in legal matters that involve public officials who sued private citizens for defamation, contact Wirth Law Office for a free consultation. Our Rogers County attorney can help you determine whether the ongoing controversy might have affected your case. Call Wirth Law Office at (918) 879-1682 or email your question using the form at the top of this page.