Supreme Court ousts judge assigned to grand jury
By JOHN M. WYLIE II, Publisher
Oklahoma’s Supreme Court has removed the Grady County judge assigned to oversee the Rogers County grand jury proceeding targeting the District Attorney, three key assistants and two county commissioners.
By a vote of 7-0 with two abstentions, the court on Thursday withdrew the appointment of District Judge Richard Van Dyck and apointed Tulsa County District Judge Jefferson D. Sellers to handle the case.
Chief Justice Tom Colbert had appointed Van Dyck on Aug. 26 to handle the case after District Judge Dwayne Steidley, presiding judge for both the 12th Judicial District and the Northeastern Judicial Administrative District, asked for an outside appointment.
Judge Steidley is the cousin of DA Steidley’s husband, and has consistently recused himself from any matter in which she is the subject.
The Supreme Court order cites no reason, but Van Dyck’s removal had been sought by Joel Wohlgemuth, Steidley’s attorney, after he issued an order sealing grand jury signatures without citing any statute, constitutional provision or case law justifying closure of such records.
He acted without any hearing or notice to the parties based on a petition from Claremore Police Investigator John Singer, who is one of the six individuals who filed a petition seeking a grand jury.
Voting in favor of the order replacing Van Dyck were Vice Chief Justice John Reif and Justices Yvonne Kauger, James Winchester, James Edmondson, Steven W. Taylor, Douglas L. Combs and Noma D. Gurich.
Joining Chief Justice Colbert in abstaining was Justice Joseph M. Watt.
The Rogers County Election Board determined that signatures of registered county voters well exceeded the number required for a grand jury, and Van Dyck had set a hearing for Tuesday on whether the requirements to proceed with a grand jury have been met.
Wohlgemuth asked Van Wyck to remove himself from the case and overturn the order sealing the records. Van Dyck rejected both motions, but did dissolve the order sealing the signatures in the “interest of justice and transparency.” The signatures are available on the court website, oscn.net , and on the Leader website, oologah.net.
Wohlgemuth then asked the Supreme Court to remove Van Dyck, based in part of disparaging comments the judge made about Wohlgemuth and/or his actions in the case in his orders.
The Tulsa World promptly reported the order, which was posted by the Rogers County District Court Clerk Friday morning, but as of noon the Claremore Daily Progress website did not mention it. That newspaper had promptly reported Singer’s motion to close records and the judge’s order granting it.