Rogers County DA Suing Sheriff, Others For Libel, Defamation

Wednesday, October 16th 2013, 5:49 pm

A new move has been made in the battle between a Green Country district attorney and some law enforcement officers.

Rogers County DA Janice Steidley and two of her assistants are suing the people who initiated a grand jury petition drive against her.

A judge threw out the petition Tuesday.

This is yet another twist in the saga of what seems to have turned into a war between these groups. Steidley's team claims the allegations in that grand jury petition were "false and reckless." And the side she's suing calls the lawsuit a typical retaliation mechanism.

The 10-page libel lawsuit is an effort to clear the names of Rogers County District Attorney Janice Steidley and two of her assistants, David Iski and Bryce Lair.

"There were a lot of allegations against a lot of different people, all of whom are presumed to be innocent and those allegations are mythical at best," said Steidley's attorney, Joel Wohlgemuth.

The grand jury petition accused Steidley of a number of crimes, including witness tampering, illegal wiretapping, criminal threats and destruction of government records.

A judge dismissed the petition due to a problem with how the signatures were gathered.

10/15/2013 Related Story: Judge Throws Out Rogers County Grand Jury Petition

Wohlgemuth said the claims made against his client were nothing more than an effort to drag her name through the mud.

"They're spending all of their time taking shots at the district attorney and her assistants for whatever political reasons, for whatever personal reasons, for whatever retaliatory reasons," Wohlgemuth said.

Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton, Claremore Police officers John Singer and Steve Cox, along with several other citizens, who helped organize the petition drive back in August, are named in the suit.

The OSBI launched an investigation after cops, deputies, sheriffs, Claremore city leaders and the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service claimed there had been a drop in charges filed and a lack of convictions since Steidley took office in Rogers, Mayes and Craig Counties.

That investigation is still ongoing.

Walton said it's all tied together and said Steidley is using the lawsuit as a scare tactic.

8/26/2013 Related Story: Sheriff Asks For Grand Jury To Investigate Rogers County DA, 2 Commissioners

"I think their initiative right here serves two purposes and that is to retaliate against us for doing what we absolutely know is right, to organize 8,000 people to want the same thing that we do, and that's a clean county government. And the other part of it is to discourage any of our continued efforts to go forward with our second initiative," Sheriff Walton said.

Walton said he fears the bad blood between Steidley's office and law enforcement agencies in the counties she represents is going to keep criminals from being prosecuted.

"I guess it's a good day to be a thug in Rogers County, because it's very difficult to get work done, as a relationship should exist between law enforcement and the district attorney's office," Walton said.

Wohlgemuth said the work in the district attorney's office is not being compromised by the legal battles, but agreed there is tension.

"The problem is that their function is impaired when there's misconduct, such as this, by individuals who are public officials, seeking to impanel a grand jury in a way that's clearly contrary to the laws of the state," Wohlgemuth said.

Walton said his group has more support now than ever before and said the lawsuit won't deter their efforts to bring forth a grand jury investigation into the DA's office.

At this point, the attorney general can impanel the grand jury or the citizens can collect signatures again.

Steidley is seeking up to $500,000 in punitive damages for libel and defamation.

Read the 10-page lawsuit filed Wednesday