Oklahoma Supreme Court Alleges “Oppression in Office”
Whispered complaints about a Washington County judge’s misconduct toward defendants and attorneys appearing in his court have swirled for months. Now, things are spilling into the light.
Washington County District Judge Curtis DeLapp has been notified of a proposed temporary suspension by the Oklahoma Court on the Judiciary’s Trial Division pending an October 15, 2018 judicial misconduct trial. The 11th Judicial District judge stands accused of gross neglect of duty, oppression in office and violating three provisions in the Code of Judicial Ethics.
DeLapp’s pending suspension is in response to a petition filed by Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Douglas Combs. The petition further seeks DeLapp’s removal from office and permanent disqualification as an Oklahoma judge.
Among other charges, the petition alleges DeLapp ignored defendants’ due process rights on more than 200 occasions in which he issued direct contempt citations since 2016. In each of more than 200 direct contempt citations, the judge failed to follow Oklahoma law for contempt of court proceedings, the misconduct petition alleges.
In particular, DeLapp jailed or fined defendants before holding hearings on the contempt citations, and failed to record the particular reason defendants were cited for direct contempt of court. The misconduct petition alleges a pattern of misconduct that went beyond DeLapp’s aggressive use of contempt citations, including that he:
issued warrants unlawfully requiring those arrested to be held without bond.
refused courtroom access to defendants who arrived late then issued warrants for their arrest stating that they had voluntarily left the courthouse without visiting the judge.
falsified court records to cover up his failure to follow Oklahoma law for contempt proceedings, then mislead the Oklahoma Supreme Court about the document being backdated.
personally negotiated a deferred prosecution agreement when Oklahoma Highway Patrol officers cited his son.
violated campaign laws by publishing a newspaper ad that claimed endorsements of individuals who had not endorsed his candidacy.
Last-Minute Petition Beats Election Deadline
Combs filed the petition to defrock DeLapp just days before a deadline would have prohibited such action until after a November election. Rules for the Court on the Judiciary bar petitions for removal from office in the 90 days prior to a judicial election involving the accused judge.
DeLapp narrowly missed reelection on a June ballot. Although he was the front-runner, no candidate garnered the 50 percent required to avoid a November runoff. On the November ballot, DeLapp is set to face former Oklahoma Bar Association President Linda Thomas. She won about 42 percent to DeLapp’s 46 percent in June’s nonpartisan primary election.
Comb’s petition seeks to disqualify DeLapp from ever holding a judicial office in Oklahoma. DeLapp was first elected District Judge in 2007, after serving as an assistant district attorney starting in 1991 and then serving as an associate district judge.
Grumblings about DeLapp’s oppressive use of contempt citations first spilled into the public eye earlier in 2018. A defendant petitioned the Oklahoma Supreme Court to overturn a six-month jail sentence for contempt.
Two days after the petition seeking DeLapp’s suspension and removal, he continued to maintain his office in the Washington County District Court, although it was unclear what, if any, judicial activities DeLapp might have conducted. According to the petition, he may either voluntarily withdraw from judicial activities pending the outcome of a misconduct trial, or may respond to the petition for suspension.
If DeLapp responds to the petition for temporary suspension, Oklahoma Rules of the Court on the Judiciary authorize that court to determine whether he should be suspended, with or without a further hearing on the suspension.
Washington County court schedules indicate DeLapp is set to preside over a slate of jury trials starting Aug. 20 – the same day he is required to voluntarily step aside or present a response against his temporary suspension.
$50K Bond for Littering in Court
News of DeLapp’s judicial conduct first spilled into the public eye after he jailed a woman in November, 2017, who he accused of talking in his courtroom. The courtroom spat quickly escalated into an arrest, with DeLapp – in his chambers – sentencing the woman, Randa Ludlow, to 30 days then increasing the sentence to six months when she cried out in response to being handcuffed.
DeLapp released the woman from jail a few days later, at that time imposing a $500 fine. He ordered her back to court in December then again in January. At the January hearing, DeLapp ordered the woman to serve the remaining 5 months and 27 days in jail because she had subsequently been charged with speeding and driving while her license was suspended.
About a month after Ludlow was jailed, attorneys petitioned the Oklahoma Supreme Court for her release. A habeas corpus petition alleged DeLapp had:
failed to detail the substance of Ludlow’s violation in court records,
jailed her for contempt without a hearing,
charged her with direct contempt of court for events that occurred outside the courtroom,
failed to defer the contempt case to another judge who was not involved,
imposed unconstitutionally excessive penalties.
The petition also asked the Supreme Court to admonish DeLapp. Attorneys filed their motion in the Oklahoma Supreme Court because it has disciplinary authority over all Oklahoma courts.
In a dense, 9-page response to Ludlow’s motion, DeLapp argued that he had followed the law with regard to her contempt citation. DeLapp claimed his court was in session – albeit in recess part of the time – when he cited her in his chambers for contempt. He said she was provided a hearing in his chambers – during the impromptu meeting in which she was arrested.
Shortly after attorneys filed the habeas corpus petition, a judicial investigator began assembling evidence of other irregularities in DeLapp’s court. Another allegation involved a woman DeLapp accused of leaving sunflower seeds on a courtroom floor and bench in 2015. DeLapp confronted the woman, Amanda Allred, when she accompanied her boyfriend to court nine days after a video had shown her sitting near where the seeds were found.
In an unscheduled proceeding, DeLapp questioned the woman then ordered her held in jail on $50,000 bond. Four days later, Allred was returned to court from jail, where DeLapp ordered her released on her own recognizance. Over the next two years, DeLapp ordered her back to his courtroom in relation to the contempt charge more than 20 times. DeLapp never afforded her due process at a hearing or by stating in a court record the reason she was jailed, the Oklahoma Supreme Court petition alleges.
Outlook for Washington County Courts
The 11th Judicial District includes Washington and Nowata counties. If you have a matter pending that involves Judge DeLapp in the 11th Judicial District, events in the judicial misconduct case could impact your proceedings.
Although DeLapp has been targeted for suspension, until a hearing about the suspension sometime on or after Aug. 20, 2018, or unless he resigns, he continues to hold judicial authority. As of Monday, Aug. 7, 2018, DeLapp continued to preside over court sessions. All court dates previously set should be considered valid until the court or your attorney advises you otherwise.
In the event DeLapp is found guilty of judicial misconduct, the finding would have some potential to cast new light on old cases. It would be premature to speculate which findings of misconduct could affect what case. However, if you have appeared before Judge DeLapp and believe you were unlawfully denied full access to your legal rights, or to a fair hearing in his court, contact an Oklahoma attorney to find out what legal options might be available.
Free Consultation: Oklahoma Attorneys
To contact an attorney in Tulsa, or to reach someone from Wirth Law Office’s Bartlesville (Washington Co.) division, call (918) 879-1681 or send an inquiry using the form at the top of this page.