By JOHN M. WYLIE II, Editor
A day after District Attorney Janice Steidley sought a grand jury investigation of her office, her accusers, and other issues, Attorney General Scott Pruitt ordered the state multi-county grand jury to handle the growing war.
Steidley said she had asked District Judge Terry H. McBride on Thursday to impanel a grand jury to investigate Rogers County public officers, including her office, as authorized by the Oklahoma Constitution.
“We decided to request this grand jury to shine light on all parties involved and let the truth come out. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. We want a grand jury investigation that is lawful and looking into real issues, not one that is supported by baseless accusations and slander in an attempt to forward political motivations and agendas.
“We want to show the people of Rogers County that their District Attorney’s Office is one they can have confidence in,” she said.
A few hours later, Pruitt said he was turning the issues over to the multi-county grand jury along with allegations brought by Sheriff Scott Walton, Claremore Police Investigator John Singer and four others in a grand jury petition against the District Attorney, three top aides and two county commissioners.
Petitioners gathered 6,994 valid signatures of registered voters, more than enough to convene a grand jury.
However, at a hearing Tuesday Tulsa County District Judge Jefferson D. Sellers threw out the grand jury proceeding because the signatures were illegally gathered using a form and language which had not been reviewed or approved by the court.
The allegations against Steidley, her aides, and County Commissioners Kirt Thacker and Mike Helm had included witness tampering, oppression in office, and bid splitting. All six have denied any wrongdoing and said they would welcome an investigation.
Bryce Lair, First Assistant District Attorney, said the DA’s office had not yet compiled a list of the individuals, offices and issues it wants investigated, although he said it wants and will welcome having its own office investigated.
However, a a half-million dollar lawsuit Steidley, Lair and civil assistant David Iski filed Wednesday against against Walton, Singer and the other four petitioners likely provides clues.
The lawsuit accuses the petitioners of fabricating the allegations against them, dumping evidence of how signatures were gathered, and using the grand jury process to try to enrich Singer in a civil lawsuit he has filed.
All three district judges in the 12th Judicial District–Dynda Post, Terry McBride and Dwayne Steidley–have endorsed the multicounty grand jury approach, saying in a joint statement, “The judges agree that the Hon. Jefferson Sellers was correct in his ruling (issued Tuesday) dismissing the recent grand jury petition in accordance with the law; however, there are a significant number of Rogers County citizens who desire that a grand jury investigate various allegations directed at Rogers County government and Rogers County law enforcement.
“We have explored the options available and believe that a grand jury is the best hope of resolving the issues and restoring some normalcy to the operation of county government and the criminal justice system in Rogers County.”
Lair said the DA’s office is pleased with the latest developments:
“We are ready to clear the air…We know Scott Pruitt’s office will do a fair and objective job.”
“As the chief legal officer of Oklahoma, one of my top priorities is to protect the integrity of our legal system,” Pruitt said. “For our system of justice to work properly, people must have confidence in the process.
“I’m confident the multicounty grand jury investigation will uncover the facts, help resolve the issues in Rogers County, and restore Oklahomans’ confidence in the legal system.”
Pruitt noted that any action recommended by the grand jury including trial of criminal charges or prosecution of a recommended ouster from office would take place in Rogers County.