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Standing trial


A judge ruled state Rep. Randy Terrill and former Democratic Sen. Debbe Leftwich should be tried on bribery charges.

Clifton Adcock November 9th, 2011

A judge ruled that there was enough evidence for state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, and former Democratic Sen. Debbe Leftwich to stand trial. The preliminary hearing that wrapped up Nov. 4 began Oct. 31 and ran through most of the week.

In a case with its share of courtroom drama and highprofile witnesses and defendants, prosecutors are seeking to prove that Terrill bribed Leftwich to leave her Senate seat by creating a temporary position for her at the state Medical Examiner’s Office that paid $80,000 per year. The arrangement would have cleared the way for Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, to run for the open spot.

Terrill is charged with offering a bribe for withdrawal of candidacy, while Leftwich is accused of soliciting or accepting a bribe for withdrawal of candidacy. If convicted of the felony charges, Terrill and Leftwich could face up to two years in prison or a fine up to $5,000.

‘Dead man’s talk’
During the preliminary hearing, the prosecution requested that a conspiracy charge be added to the charges against Leftwich and Terrill, but Judge Stephen Alcorn denied the move, although that ruling can be appealed by the state.

right, Rep. Randy Terrill talks with his legal counsel.

Meanwhile, attorneys for Terrill and Leftwich argued there was no corruption involved, that Leftwich — a former Medical Examiner’s Office employee — was qualified for the position. They contended that she was not a candidate for office when the position was created — a complex yet important distinction in the prosecution’s case — and that, ultimately, no crime was committed.

The transition coordinator was to assist with the Medical Examiner’s Office’s move to Edmond, and the legislation included several other items aimed at reforming the agency, which is responsible for performing autopsies for law enforcement and determining cause and manner of death. The position was to be paid for with an Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs fund, part of which already went toward other agencies.

The Medical Examiner’s Office has been under fire: The office lost its accreditation in 2009 and had six chief medical examiners in three years.

The prosecution’s witness list included Christian; Rep. Al McAffrey, D-Oklahoma City; Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid; Sen. Charles Laster; R-Shawnee; former Senate Pro Tem and current Secretary of State Glenn Coffee; State Treasurer Ken Miller; political consultant Chad Alexander; former Medical Examiner’s Office Chief Administrative Officer Tom Jordan; and former Medical Examiner’s office spokeswoman and legislative liaison Cherokee Ballard.

The week’s proceedings began with Ballard and Jordan, who both stated that Terrill had pushed them to hire Leftwich. Both Medical Examiner’s Office officials said they were called into a closed-door meeting with Terrill, who told them what they were discussing was “dead man’s talk,” before talking about Leftwich, the newly created position and how much money she would be making.

Jordan said he previously had a conversation with Leftwich in which she told him she wanted out of the Legislature to come back to the Medical Examiner’s Office, and that Christian was running for her seat.

After the bill with the transition coordinator language passed at the end of the session, Jordan said he was called to a meeting with Terrill and Leftwich at the Moore Warren Theatre, and Terrill asked him to hire Leftwich, although Jordan had resigned from the office, but was still technically “on the books.”

Jordan said he refused since the legislation had not yet been signed by Gov. Brad Henry, the questionable legality of which was later confirmed by then-Attorney General Drew Edmondson’s office.

Cooling-off period
Terrill’s attorney, Stephen Jones, and Leftwich’s lead attorney, Robert McCampbell, both questioned Jordan and Ballard on the contents of the legislation, Senate Bill 738, and the two were unable to answer some key questions about it.

Both attorneys also named numerous legislators in recent years who have gone from the Legislature to a state job within the two-year intermission required by state law.

The key for legislators to get state jobs within that “cooling-off period” is to find jobs with non-appropriated funds. However, because Terrill’s legislation that funded the transition coordinator position was an appropriation bill, it may have ultimately prohibited Leftwich from taking the job, Jones said.

Much of what was done was nothing more than legislative horsetrading and negotiation that occurs during every session, Jones said, and the case is “much ado about nothing.”

“It’s clearly not a crime, the Medical Examiner’s Office was in deplorable shape,” Jones said. “The Medical Examiner’s Office would have been fortunate to have someone like Sen. Leftwich, had she been employed there.”

In his ruling, Alcorn said he was displeased as to what constitutes “business as usual” at the Capitol, but that did not necessarily mean a crime had been committed.

“However, when the evidence is looked at as a whole in this matter in its entirety, it is clear this exceeds business as usual,” Alcorn said.

After the hearing, Terrill said his name would be cleared, and Jones said he looks forward to bringing the case before a jury.

Above photo by Mark Hancock

 
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