- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 16, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A candidate for Tulsa County district attorney asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Wednesday to decide a challenge that, if successful, could secure the job for his only opponent.

Tulsa County Assistant District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler filed a lawsuit last month that challenges Republican state Rep. Fred Jordan’s eligibility to serve as district attorney. The lawsuit alleges Jordan is not eligible to serve as district attorney because of a pay increase that was approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin.

Kunzweiler and Jordan, both Republicans, face each other in an Aug. 26 runoff election that will decide who succeeds longtime Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris, who is retiring. No Democrat filed for the office. Kunzweiler received 47 percent of the vote in the June 24 primary election to 40 percent for Jordan. A third candidate, state Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, received 13 percent although he had already withdrawn from the race.

Attorneys for Jordan and Kunzweiler made oral presentations to Supreme Court referee Barbara Swimley on Wednesday.

The lawsuit, which also lists Crain as a defendant, cites a section of Oklahoma’s Constitution that states in part: “No member of the Legislature shall, during the term for which he was elected, be appointed or elected to any office or commission in the State, which shall have been created, or the emoluments of which shall have been increased, during his term of office.”

But both Crain and Jordan invoked constitutional privilege on the vote to approve the pay raise, allowing them to abstain from voting on an issue in which they may have a personal interest.

Crain later dropped out of the race after concluding he was ineligible to run since he is in the middle of a four-year term. Jordan maintains the prohibition does not apply to him since his two-year term ends on Nov. 19, before the pay raise goes into effect on Jan. 5.

Jordan’s attorney, Curtis Long of Tulsa, said the seriousness of the challenge and the runoff election less than six weeks away are sufficient reasons for the Supreme Court to decide the issue.

“This cloud has been placed over Mr. Jordan and the election in general. His actions as district attorney could be subject to challenge,” Long said. “There is a public interest in a qualified district attorney in Tulsa County. There is urgency here, too.”

But Kunzweiler’s attorney, John Carwile of Tulsa, said there is no need for the Supreme Court to get involved because a hearing is already scheduled five days before the runoff election in Oklahoma County District Court.

Swimley said she will file a report with the state’s highest court recommending what action it should take.

Jordan said he hopes the court will take up the issue “and decide this issue quickly.” Kunzweiler did not attend the hearing.

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