- Associated Press - Monday, February 2, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma district attorneys are upset by a bill that would prohibit them from prosecuting elected state officials for a public offense, allowing only the state’s attorney general to file criminal charges.

The bill by state Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City, would cover state elected officials, legislators, district court and appellate judges, and appointees to state boards and state commissions. It does not specify what would be considered a public offense.

“It’s a big deal to me. I’m upset and concerned,” Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater told The Oklahoman (https://bit.ly/1yuf9Z9 ). “This bill creates a different class of citizens that would be protected from the normal prosecution process.”

He questioned if the bill is retaliation for his prosecutions of legislators, a judge and members of the Pardon and Parole Board.

Calvey said he filed the bill because he is outraged over what he called “malicious prosecution” in Texas of former Gov. Rick Perry, not because of events in Oklahoma.

Perry, a Republican who left office last month, is fighting an abuse-of-power indictment that he contends is politically motivated. The charges against Perry stem from a threat the Republican made in 2013 to veto state money for a public corruption division within the office of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg after she refused to resign over drunk driving conviction.

Calvey said he doesn’t want such a situation in Oklahoma.

“The origin of it has nothing to do with anything that’s occurred in Oklahoma. It’s my concern over what’s going on in Texas with this witch hunt by a local prosecutor,” Calvey said.

He said he doesn’t think any of the current district attorneys in Oklahoma would do something “so outrageous,” but questioned what a future prosecutor may do.

“I do think it’s just better to prevent that kind of thing from ever arising. … The point is to not allow a locally elected official to effectively have undue influence over statewide policy,” Calvey said.

Another district attorney questioned Calvey’s reasoning, saying giving exclusive authority to the attorney general would not resolve his concerns.

“How does shifting the responsibility of prosecution from one politically elected official to another politically elected official solve the problem?” asked Richard Smothermon, district attorney of Pottawatomie and Lincoln counties.

“The attorney general probably faces more political pressure on a day-to-day basis than I’ve ever faced,” Smothermon said.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt did not request the legislation and considers it unnecessary.

“We partner and work with district attorneys across the state in investigations and prosecutions utilizing the grand jury process on behalf of the citizens of Oklahoma,” said Pruitt’s press secretary, Will Gattenby.

“We see no reason for a statutory change unless there is some evidence of abuse as has been seen outside of Oklahoma,” Gattenby said.

Prater said the attorney general already has the authority to take over any criminal case.

“If the attorney general has reason to believe that there is any political … persecution involved in a prosecution brought by a DA in the state of Oklahoma, he can step in and take that case over without asking anyone permission,” Prater said.


Information from: The Oklahoman, https://www.newsok.com

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