State court overrules challenge of petition format

Tuesday, June 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday tossed out an attempt to void an anti-cockfighting petition based on purported irregularities in how the petition was filled out.

Petition supporters hailed the decision as a major victory that moves State Question 687 on a cockfighting ban closer to a statewide vote in November. Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico are the only states where cockfighting is legal.

"They thought that was their very best argument and they lost," said Janet Halliburton, chairwoman of the Oklahoma
Coalition Against Cockfighting.

But an attorney for two cockfighting supporters said other pending challenges could still potentially doom the petition.

"You never like to lose anything, but I don't consider it a big setback. It is a setback," said D. Kent Meyers.

Even if the state's highest court eventually clears the issue for a vote, Meyers said it's unlikely to make it on the general election ballot this year.

In September, Halliburton filed an initiative petition for a vote with the Secretary of State. The petition contained more than 99,000 signatures.

Secretary of State Mike Hunter ruled that only 69,887 valid signatures were required to put the question on the ballot.

The petition seeks to make cockfighting a felony in Oklahoma and would also make it illegal to raise or sell birds to fight.

In the latest legal development in the case, cockfighters contended that the petition should be thrown out because names of ban proponents were placed at the end of the petition instead at the beginning.

The court ruled 7-1 that placing the names at the end was a "technical violation not a substantive one" that would invalidate the petition.

Cockfighters also claimed that supporters were not identified on the petition in compliance with state requirements, but the court ruled otherwise.

Meyers said other legal challenges are pending.

He said he's awaiting word from the Supreme Court on a brief schedule for other legal issues.

Cockfighting supporters are also challenging petition signatures, which must be those of registered Oklahoma voters.

Marc Edwards, an attorney for the coalition, said a court referee will eventually conduct a hearing on signature challenges but no hearing has been set yet.

The court on Tuesday also denied motions by a Tulsa attorney on behalf of some cockfighters to quash a public notice of State
Question 687 published in January in The Daily Oklahoman. The attorney had contended that the petition didn't identify the proponents.

The court ruling also snuffed a motion to strike Halliburton, the coalition and others as parties.