Federal Prosecutors Move To Oklahoma To Help With Supreme Court Caseload

Thursday, January 14th 2021, 10:05 pm

TULSA, Okla. -

Federal prosecutors and support staff from every corner of the country are in Oklahoma helping U.S. Attorneys' offices that are so overwhelmed with case work because of the Supreme Court's McGirt ruling.

Laurie Reiley moved here, sight unseen, from Pennsylvania.

"It's nothing what I expected. It's way more eclectic," Reiley said.

Mara Hern picked up and moved from Florida.

"I've never been to Tulsa," said Hern. "I love downtown. It's just very historical. I love the buildings and you know the cleanliness of it."

Justin Bish is from New York. He's spending his free time outside.

"I've hiked Turkey Mountain. I've explored the area, Keystone Lake, trying to see what I can," Bish said.

All three of them said the McGirt ruling was not on their radar when the Supreme Court released its decision last July, stating Oklahoma does not have the jurisdiction to prosecute crimes involving Native Americans that happened on tribal land. The Department of Justice emailed U.S. Attorneys offices across the country to ask who would be willing to move to Tulsa to help with the newfound caseload.

"I kept seeing the emails, I said, 'Well, let me read what this McGirt thing is about," said Hern.

"And now I live here," Bish said.

Prosecutors and support staff moved to Tulsa from 12 states including Wisconsin, Georgia, Montana and New Jersey.

Help also came to the U.S. Attorney's Eastern District in Muskogee, welcoming people from nine states such as Alaska, Tennessee, California, and Washington, D.C, which is where Ben Traster moved from. His family lives in Broken Arrow after deciding a cross-country move for work would be an adventure.

"We're going to see what states we pass and what we see and when we get out there, we're going to see horses - that sold my two kids," said Traster.

While one of his daughters is taking horseback riding lessons, they're also finding time to make the drive up to Osage County to see the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.

"My kids were very excited to see bison. We've been back there a couple times," Traster said.

U.S. Attorney Brian Kuester called the people who moved here to help his office a godsend. He anticipates the number of cases his office will work next year to quadruple because of the McGirt ruling.

Back in Tulsa, U.S. Attorney Trent Shores said it's been a whirlwind, with so many state cases being transferred to the federal level. The work is keeping everyone busy.

"The days fly by. They are long, many times," said Bish.

Laurie Reiley is a victim specialist. She works with families as cases essentially start over from scratch. She said in most cases, someone was already convicted of a crime and serving time in prison.

"Calling a victim and saying, 'Hey, your case is now in the US Attorney's office and it's six years old and I'm sorry that we may have to retry this,' It's been a little difficult," Reiley said.

That work is far from over. Both U.S. attorneys say there's a real need for these prosecutors and support staff to stick around as long as possible, as the office continues to take on more cases because of the Supreme Court's ruling.

"I don't need more attorneys just for 12 months. I'm going to need more attorneys, and you know, our community is going to need these prosecutors for a period of two, three, four, five, or forever years, because this decision is here to stay," said Shores.

Two of the prosecutors who came to Oklahoma to help have decided to make their move to Tulsa permanent, and now call Oklahoma home.