OK Supremes divide on Tulsa DA race

TulsaJusticeUpdated: The Tulsa County District Attorney’s race became a great deal more complicated today with a divided decision by the Oklahoma Supreme Court rendered in favor of Representative Fred Jordan’s campaign for the office.

While the Oklahoma Constitution prohibits a legislator from taking public office during the term of a Legislature which has voted to increase the emoluments (salary, benefits, etc.) for that office; the Court ruled the prohibition “inapplicable” if the candidate is “incapable of commencing” the work of the office “until after the conclusion of the legislator’s term.” The Majority opinion noted Jordan’s term will end on November 19, 2014 and the term of the district attorney will begin on January 5, 2015.

The three candidates that first filed from left; Rep. Fred Jordan, Chief Tulsa County Prosecutor Steve Kunzweiler, and Sen. Brian Crain

The three candidates that filed (from left) Rep. Fred Jordan, Chief Tulsa County Prosecutor Steve Kunzweiler, and Sen. Brian Crain

The reasonable reading of this prohibition suggests the intent was to prevent legislators from piling money in an office then jumping on it like kids on a pile of leaves. A reasonable review of facts would suggest that is what Rep. Jordan allowed to happen.

An earlier news story on Tulsa TodayPrimary preview: District Attorney race to court” (click for that story) Rep. Jordan, Sen. Brian Crain and current Chief Tulsa County Prosecutor Steve Kunzweiler detailed their differences – three skilled attorneys with different interpretations of the probation.

Chief Tulsa County Prosecutor Steve Kunzweiler

Chief Tulsa County Prosecutor Steve Kunzweiler

Apparently the Oklahoma Constitution should be made clearer to avoid such dispute.

Judge J. Taylor wrote in dissent that the Court “refused to properly construe” the Oklahoma Constitution in this case. Judge Taylor found that the Court misconstrues the term “elected” to mean “assuming or taking office.” He further notes that the challenge to Rep. Jordan’s candidacy arose from House Joint Resolution 1096 which was signed into law June 3, 2014.

Oklahoma Supreme Court

Oklahoma Supreme Court

”There appears to be a disconnect between the Court’s decision and the plain language” of the Constitution Judge Taylor wrote. “For Tulsa County, the Republican primary runoff will be held on August 26, 2014. No Democrat has filed for the seat. The winner of this runoff will receive a certificate of election, which will be issued…on August 29, 2014…Therefore, under Oklahoma election law, the certified winner of the primary runoff will be deemed elected to the position of Tulsa County district attorney.”

OKcapitolLgBoth remaining contenders (Sen. Crain withdrew) will appear on a runoff ballot August 26 and should Kunzweiler win the dispute becomes mute, but Rep. Jordan is currently the Majority Leader of the Oklahoma Legislature and bears some responsibility for the dispute from the beginning.

While the Legislature established the Judicial Compensation Board to avoid political responsibility for justified pay increases, they still passed the recommendation of the Board.

Rep. Fred Jordan

Rep. Fred Jordan

Rep. Jordan, anticipating dispute, claimed Constitutional Privilege not to cast a vote for or against the raise and told Tulsa Today, “The reason I did that is because I am running for District Attorney so I didn’t want to be involved in that vote.”

However, from his position as Majority Leader one would think Rep. Jordan could have removed the district attorney raises from the judicial raises and avoided all question or conflict in advance.

Update: Rep. Jordan in multiple media interviews today is praising the decision of the Oklahoma Supreme Court noting, “that is the position I have held since the beginning.”

In an earlier exclusive interview with Tulsa Today, Jordan said, “I am at the end of my House term. My term will expire in November following the general election. My District Attorney term will not start until January. In fact, the election will not even be certified for District Attorney until the first week in January. So “during the term for which I was elected” expires before the time I would take over as District Attorney.”

Chief Prosecutor Steve Kunzweiler issued a release that reads in part, “Obviously I disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling, but it doesn’t change anything in this election campaign. I’m excited to move forward and build on the momentum of my campaign.

Steven Kunzweiler with Gov. Mary Fallin at a recent Young Republican Meeting

Steven Kunzweiler with Gov. Mary Fallin at a recent Young Republican Meeting

“I will continue to bring my message to the voters of the importance of electing a District Attorney with proven prosecutorial experience. An experienced prosecutor is needed in court to take dangerous criminals off our streets. In the primary election, the voters gave me a substantial lead, despite the fact that my opponent outspent me 3-1. I am confident that on Aug 26, the voters will elect me as DA.

“I believe the most important issue facing the voters is not the re-defining of the word “election,” but voting for the candidate who has the most experience to serve as their DA,” Kunzweiler added.

Tulsa Today will continue coverage.