Oklahoma's multicounty grand jury challenged

Thursday, November 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Oklahoma's multicounty grand jury system is under attack from an Oklahoma City attorney who claims it is an "investigative arm of the attorney general's office" that issues "sham indictments."

"Procedures of the multicounty grand jury are made up as they go along," attorney Janet Halliburton told Oklahoma Supreme Court referee Wayne Snow Wednesday.

Halliburton has asked the state's highest court to stop the grand jury's presiding judge from enforcing a ruling that prohibits her from representing former Health Department Deputy Commissioner Doyle Carper in grand jury proceedings.

But Assistant Attorney General Lisa Goodspeed defended grand jury procedures and said Halliburton was asking the Supreme Court to intervene in a situation created by Halliburton when she failed to avail herself of legal remedies available to her.

Halliburton had planned to represent both Carper and former Health Department employee Vernon Johnson when they appeared as witnesses during the grand jury's investigation of the Health Department in September.

Robert D. Simms, the multicounty grand jury's presiding judge, prohibited Halliburton from representing either client after finding her clients had conflicting interests.

Simms offered both Johnson and Carper the opportunity to obtain different attorneys before testifying. Both subsequently appeared before the grand jury without legal representation.

Johnson answered some questions, but invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in refusing to respond to others.

Johnson, who is accused of being a "ghost" employee, later was indicted on 32 felony counts of filing false travel claims and one felony county of collecting pay for work that was not performed.

Carper, who is accused of being the "paper" supervisor over several ghost employees, invoked his right against self-incrimination and was released from his subpoena. He remains at risk of being indicted, Halliburton said.

She contended that the due process rights of citizens are being violated because of the secret nature of the multicounty grand jury.

"I still don't know what the conflict was that caused the judge to remove me as their attorney," she said. "He didn't state what the conflict was. Neither I nor my clients saw any conflict."

She also complained that the grand jury doesn't have a place or procedure for filing legal objections.

"The multicounty grand jury is running roughshod over the rights of Oklahoma citizens. Witnesses are stripped of counsel and thrown in to give incriminating information against themselves,"

she said.

Goodspeed said Halliburton is to blame for many of her current complaints.

"She took no action to get evidence before the court,"

Goodspeed said. "She hasn't asked for a written order. She has not even requested a transcript."

Goodspeed argued that removing Halliburton as the attorney for her two clients was within the judge's discretion.