Staff and Wire Reports
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The attorney for a state lawmaker wants a judge to end a grand jury investigation into alleged political corruption by the lawmaker and others.
Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, is under investigation by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater for allegedly conspiring to legislatively create an $80,000-a-year state job for Democratic Sen. Debbe Leftwich, so Republican Rep. Mike Christian could run for her south Oklahoma City seat.
Leftwich announced on the last day of the legislative session that she would not run for re-election to the Senate and Christian said he would seek her seat. However, after the investigation was announced, Christian said he would run for re-election to the House instead.
Terrill, Leftwich and Christian each have denied wrongdoing, and Prater said Christian is no longer a subject of the grand jury investigation.
Terrill's attorney Stephen Jones called the allegations baseless, but said even if they are true, a grand jury cannot investigate.
"There is an important constitutional principle here, that is the 'absolute immunity,' as courts have described it, against legislators being questioned in other places about official legislative action, including votes, speech and negotiations concerning legislation," Jones told The Oklahoman.
He raised the constitutional issue in a legal request to grand jury Judge Noma Gurich.
"Each House is the judge of its own members. Each House has an arrangement to investigate these matters and they are simply not the province of the grand jury," Jones said.
Article 5, Section 22 of the Oklahoma Constitution states that Senators and Representatives, for any speech or debate in either House, shall not be questioned in any other place. But there are three exceptions: treason, felony or breach of the peace.
"The term speech or debate have been expansively interpreted by the court to mean anything in the legislative process," Jones said.
The Oklahoma Election Code on bribery deems offering to another anything of value to induce or cause another person to withdrawal from a political contest, a felony. Jones said no one has alleged bribery in this case and no one had yet entered a race, let alone withdrawn from one.
Prater has permission to put evidence about the allegations before the state's multicounty grand jury. The grand jury next meets Aug. 16-18.
Jones said Prater's investigation should be ended and the district attorney should contact state House or Senate leaders and ask for a legislative inquiry.
A separate motion asks that Prater be disqualified from the investigation.
Prater said only that he is prepared to respond to the motions.
The legislation at issue in the investigation would have created the position of transition coordinator at the state medical examiner's office to oversee the move of the medical examiner's main office from Oklahoma City to Edmond.
Gov. Brad Henry vetoed the legislation, saying the job was highly paid and "entirely unnecessary in the operation of the agency."
OCU Law professor Andrew Spiropoulos said this is a very difficult issue, but without seeing the evidence presented to the grand jury, he thinks the Constitution gives legislators really broad immunity and believes Terrill has a case that the grand jury investigation should be terminated.
The grand jury is scheduled to meet again on August 16.
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