Less than 24 hours after a judge threw out a grand jury petition against District Attorney Janice Steidley and five other public officials, three of them turned the tables on the petitioners.
Both actions were based on the grand jury statutes (Title 38, Sections 100-108).
On Tuesday, Tulsa County District Judge Jefferson D. Sellers rejected a grand jury petition filing, which if accepted would have triggered a grand jury, because what county voters signed bore language never reviewed or approved by any court.
Wednesday, attorney Joel Wohlgemuth filed a libel and slander lawsuit (link here: http://oologahonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/lawsuit.tif ) seeking a minimum of $500,000 from the grand jury petitioners, drafters or circulators of the petitions seeking an investigation of Steidley, First Assistant DA M. Bryce Lair and civil assistant David Iski.
Wohlgemuth is representing the three as private counsel, and the plaintiffs do not include the other three targets—assistant DA Tim Wantland and County Commissioners Mike Helm and Kirt Thacker.
Named as defendants are all six grand jury petitioners in their individual capacities—Claremore Police Investigator John Singer, Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton, Claremore Police Lt. Steve Cox, Claremore businessmen Russell Guilfoyle and Myron Grubowski, and Billy D. Jones, the father of two alleged rape victims.
Also named are John Does 1-25, now known only as “residents of Rogers Countywho created, drafted, circulated or otherwise republished the defamatory publications concerning Plaintiffs as alleged herein. As discovery reveals the identities of the John Does referred to herein, they shall be named as defendant.”
Section 108 of the grand jury statute specifically allows those who circulate a grand jury petition as well as those drafting or creating it to be held liable for civil damages in libel and/or slander if the grand jury petition is proved to contain “any false allegation…if such allegations are proven to be made with malice and with an ulterior or illicit purpose.”
Wolgemuth described the actions of the defendants as “egregious” and said the allegations of civil and criminal misconduct leveled against the plaintiffs were “false and reckless…(and) without any factual basis.”
He further alleges Singer and the other five named defendants “conspired to cause the spoliation of evidence related to the circulation of the Grand Jury Petition and Unauthorized Petition,” then tried to hide their actions by obtaining an order sealing the filings. That order was later dissolved.
Singer testified Tuesday that folders used in obtaining signatures, which he said also included the court-approved petition, were trashed before the signature sheets with unapproved language was filed with the court.
He also testified that the petitioners never consulted a lawyer, other than having his wife proofread one court motion, but instead relied on advice from court clerks and others who have been involved in grand jury petitions.
He said a copy of the language from the unauthorized signature page sent to the Rogers County Court Clerk.
Walton said in media interviews Wednesday that petitioners would not be deterred by the lawsuit from continuing what they depicted as an effort to clean up county government.
Grand Jury petition trashed
By FAITH WYLIE, Leader Co-publisher
Rogers County Grand Jury boosters saw weeks of effort tossed in the trash after a judge ruled Tuesday that the petition they circulated included unapproved language.
However, the judge pointed out that he or the Attorney General’s office also have rights involving calling a Grand Jury.
“I will consider whether I have the authority to summon a grand jury,” he said.
Tulsa County District Judge Jefferson D. Sellers said he would have addressed the issue of unapproved language whether or not the issue had been raised by an attorney representing the targets of the grand jury petition.
“You’ve got to establish that it’s something approved by the judge,” Sellers told John Singer, who testified on behalf of the Grand Jury petitioners.
The hearing Tuesday lasted more than two hours. Over 80 people crowded into the courtroom with seating for 48. Others waited in the corridor outside the courtroom.
Afterwards, Grand Jury supporters were furious at the judge’s ruling.
“It’s appalling what goes on in this county,” one woman said.
“It just shows what money can buy,” another said.
A third person called it “a ridiculous process.”
Attorney Joel Wohlgemuth, who represented District Attorney Janice Steidley, First Assistant M. Bryce Lair and civil assistant David T. Iski, said it was a “most basic element of due process.”
Steidley, Lair and Iski are three of the six targets named in the now-dismissed grand jury petition.
The original Grand Jury petition language had been approved by District Judge Richard Van Dyck ofGradyCounty. State law requires approval of petition language before it is circulated for signatures.
The Oklahoma Chief Justice had named him to handle the grand jury matter, but the full court voted 7-0 with two abstentions last Thursday to remove Van Dyck and appoint Sellers, who is the chief civil judge inTulsaCounty.
On Tuesday, Claremore Police Investigator John Singer testified that he wrote a summary for the top of the signature pages to provide the “gist of the grand jury petition.”
“My purpose was to provide clarity to the person providing the signature,” Singer said.
He said he emailed the summary to the Court Clerk but did not ask Judge Van Dyck for approval of the additional language.
Singer testified that his group filed only the completed signature pages with the Court Clerk’s office, discarding the original folders that contained a copy of the approved Grand Jury petition.
Singer verbally sparred with Wohlgemuth.
Wohlgemuth questioned Singer about what had been done with the folders and copies of the approved petition that Singer said had been circulated with the signature pages.
“We destroyed them because they were trash,” Singer said, drawing approving chuckles from the spectators. “We didn’t discuss the need to bring in the ink pens, either.”
However, the no-nonsense judge didn’t share the humor.
“I will look at what you circulated,” he said.
He also seemed to grow weary of Wohlgemuth’s questioning of Singer.
“Why do I care what he thinks or not?” Sellers asked Wohlgemuth.
Shortly after that, the judge called a 15 minute recess and asked a sheriff’s deputy to find chairs for the people standing.
Three representatives of the Attorney General’s office, led by Megan Tilly, were also seated at tables for attorneys in the case.
Tilly said the attorneys were there to act if the Grand Jury was empaneled. She said they had advised the petitioners but did not intend to present any legal motion.
However, George Burnett of the Attorney General’s office requested that the judge preserve the appellate right of the petitioners. The judge said the request was inappropriate.
In another twist, the judge disclosed that a relative of Claremore Police Lt. Steve Cox, another petitioner, worked for the Tulsa Countycourts.
“If she were involved in assisting, then both sides need to know that,” he said.
Singer said that a number of people had offered advice on the project, but that she was not one of them. He did not disclose who had offered advice.
Editor’s Note: Leader publishers John and Faith Wylie have done projects for the District Attorney’s Office and for Janice Steidley’s campaign through Wylie Communications, Inc., a company they own. The last paid project for the DA’s office was in May. In September they designed a campaign flyer for Steidley to distribute at the Rogers County Fair and updated the campaign website for the start of Steidley’s 2014 re-election campaign.