Legal wrangling begins on cockfighting petition

Monday, October 2nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Attorneys on Monday began what is expected to be weeks of legal wrangling over the validity of signatures on a petition to outlaw cockfighting in Oklahoma.

Larry Oliver, attorney for the Oklahoma Game Fowl Breeders Association, said he will show more than 37,000 signatures of voters are faulty. State law requires that only registered voters sign initiative petitions.

Robert Sheets, representing the Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting, said his group had checked thousands of signatures that are being challenged and was confident there are far more than the required 69,000 valid signatures needed to put the issue to a vote.

Sheets said his side had verified more than 77,000 of the signatures on the petitions and believes all of the 99,000 signatures could be verified.

Many of the plaintiffs' challenges, including questioning whether petitions were properly notarized, are technical, the attorney said.

There has been no evidence presented to show any attempt to "defraud or deceive in the notary process," Sheets said.

The coalition, led by former Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation general counsel Janet Halliburton, had hoped to have a vote on the cockfighting ban in November.

But those plans were spoiled by a series of legal attacks. In June, the Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the form of the petition.

In addition to the challenge on the validity of the signatures, a Supreme Court lawsuit is pending on the constitutionality of the petition.

The only witnesses testifying early Monday were Lance Ward, state Election Board secretary, and Larry Wood, consultant to the breeders group.

Ward discussed how voters are registered and how election records are kept.

Asked by attorney Lee Slater about the accuracy of the Election Board data, Ward said the information "is as good as what the voter gave us."

Gregory Albert, Supreme Court referee, is presiding over the trial, which attorneys say could last a month.