Along with most of the people there, she was scheduled to make an initial appearance that day — a legal proceeding in which the accused appear before a judge and receive a copy of the charges against them.
The woman’s attorney excused himself for a few minutes before returning and motioning for the woman to cross the bar, the barrier that separates the public gallery from where the court’s business takes place. She followed her attorney and took a seat.
Soon after, a balding man wearing a suit and accompanied by his attorney entered the courtroom. Standing against a wall, the man tinkered on his iPad while the bailiff called out the names of those dismissed from making an appearance that day. After the bailiff was finished, the man and his attorney crossed the bar, and seeing his co-defendant, the man smiled and shook the woman’s hand.
The woman, former state Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, and the man, state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, are both facing felony bribery charges filed by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. Terrill is accused of offering a bribe for withdrawal of candidacy, while Leftwich is accused of soliciting or accepting a bribe for withdrawal of candidacy. The allegations laid forth in the charges are serious, and if convicted, Terrill and Leftwich could face up to two years in prison or a fine up to $5,000.
According to campaign records, as of Sept. 20, Leftwich paid a year-to-date total of $29,500 from her campaign coffers to the law firm Crowe & Dunlevy. While state law prohibits candidates from using campaign funds to defend against criminal charges, the bills were for other legal work, said Crowe & Dunlevy’s Robert McCampbell, the attorney defending Leftwich against the criminal charges filed Dec. 22. Leftwich had no comment, but McCampbell said the charges against his client are unfounded.
“We welcome the opportunity to proceed to court and to use the legal process to show why the charges are completely groundless,” McCampbell said in a written statement. “When the legal process is complete, we are fully confident that Sen. Leftwich will be found to have done nothing wrong in any respect.”
Neither Terrill nor his attorney, Stephen Jones, responded to requests by Oklahoma Gazette for an interview, but following his initial appearance at the Oklahoma County Courthouse on Jan. 3, Terrill made a public statement calling the charges politically motivated.
“What we have here is actually a good oldfashioned political persecution, not a criminal prosecution, by an overzealous and hyperpartisan Democrat district attorney who has charged a nonexistent crime,” Terrill said.
Terrill, who said there is no evidence of any wrongdoing in the case against him, is confident he will be cleared.
“I am being charged because of who I am and what I believe, and that’s something every real conservative should find extremely troubling,” said Terrill, author of the state’s 2007 immigration reform law. “I never offered or gave her anything to withdraw as a candidate from last year’s election. I am 100 percent innocent of the charges, which are absolutely, totally and completely without any factual or legal merit.”
Terrill and Leftwich were released on their own recognizance Jan. 3. A preliminary hearing conference in the case is scheduled for March 17.
Although Prater did not respond to an interview request by the Gazette, an affidavit filed in the case illustrates details of the alleged political pact.
Voters chose Leftwich in December 2003 to the state Senate in a special election for District 44, which is comprised of a good portion of southwest Oklahoma City. Her husband, Keith Leftwich, had previously held the seat, but had died of cancer in September 2003.
She was re-elected to the post in 2006, and submitted paperwork for her next campaign in early 2007.
Meanwhile, retired Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper Mike Christian, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for state representative in 2006, won his 2008 bid for House District 93, which overlaps part of Leftwich’s Senate district.
In February 2010, Christian began considering running for Leftwich’s seat, although his ultimate goal was to run for Oklahoma County sheriff, according to Prater’s investigation. Because the officials’ election cycles are not the same, Christian would have been able to retain the Senate seat while running for sheriff.
As part of the district attorney’s investigation, Christian said he was concerned about running against an incumbent, but noticed that Leftwich seemed to be losing influence in her district. Christian later spoke with his political consulting firm, A.H. Strategies, about possibly polling the Senate district to gauge his likelihood of winning, although no poll was conducted because of Christian’s inability to pay for one, according to the affidavit.
Christian, who then was contacted in late February or early March by a representative from the Senate Political Action Committee in an apparent attempt to recruit him to run for Leftwich’s seat, was offered assistance for fundraising, the charges state.
In March, Leftwich contacted Christian, upset and crying, asking to speak with him, according to the court filing. Leftwich asked if Christian was planning to run for her seat and, according to the charges, told him, “How can you do this, I thought we were friends.”
Christian told investigators that he downplayed his interest in the seat, so as not to further upset Leftwich, and told her he was getting a lot of pressure to run against her, but had not made a decision. Leftwich told him that a poll had been conducted in her Senate district. Afterward, Christian contacted Terrill to tell him about the confrontation, the charges state.
In mid-March, Christian’s political consultant Chad Alexander, a partner in the political consulting firm Majority Designs, told him that Leftwich may not run for her Senate seat and was going to take a job at the state Medical Examiner’s Office. Christian told investigators that he called Terrill to confirm the rumor, but Terrill refused to answer the question, according to the filing.
A.H. Strategies, which campaign records show did work for Christian, and Majority Designs are well-known GOP strategy groups located in Oklahoma City. The two firms feature the same list of successful candidates on their respective websites, which feature similar layout and content.
Although his name is not on the website’s list of successful candidates, campaign records show that Terrill is a client of Majority Designs.
The charges state that Christian’s consultants would be paid a victory bonus of $20,000 if Christian won re-election to the House, and $40,000 if he won election to the Senate.
Neither Fount Holland, a partner in both firms, nor Alexander returned phone calls from the Gazette.
On May 20, a party at the Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club celebrated the nearing adjournment of the legislative session. Christian told investigators that he had too much to drink at the party, and had talked about running for Leftwich’s seat. The next day, Terrill called and told him to “keep his mouth shut” about possibly
the charges state. This was followed by a call from Leftwich, who told
Christian not to talk about her candidacy, according to the filing.
Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, told the district attorney’s office that Senate President Pro Tem Glen Coffee had tasked him with getting Coffee’s Senate Bill 738 — a measure to clear up some issues at the Medical Examiner’s Office — through the Legislature. Sykes contacted Terrill in the House and asked him what language to put in the bill in order to gain House approval, according to the court filings.
Four days before the country club party, during the final weeks of the 2010 legislative session, three legislators sat together at the Moore International House of Pancakes to talk about legislation. At their meeting, Terrill asked Sykes if Leftwich could join the conversation, to which he consented, the document states. Sykes told investigators that the term “transition coordinator” was not brought up, or if it was, it was only in passing.
The next day, Terrill met with the Medical Examiner’s Office Chief Administrative Officer Tom Jordan and public information officer Cherokee Ballard. The charges state that Terrill told the two that what he was discussing was “dead man’s talk.”
At the meeting, Terrill recommended Leftwich be hired as the transition coordinator, where she would make about $80,000 per year, according to the charges.
Because the Oklahoma Constitution bars legislators from taking state jobs funded through appropriated money for two years after leaving office, Terrill allegedly told the two that her position would be paid for through nonappropriated funds via a revolving fund he helped create in 2009, according to the court filing.
Ballard and Jordan agreed that they were being pressured to hire Leftwich, the charges state.
The next day, Terrill dictated to a Senate staff member the language he wanted inserted into the bill, the charges state. The staffer told investigators Terrill inserted language into Senate bill creating the position of “transition coordinator” at the Medical Examiner’s Office.
You will destroy our way of life at the Capitol if the public learns of what it is really like in the last week.
The language inserted included detailed information, including salary and the date the position was to be filled, the charges state. The staffer told investigators that the inclusion of the specific information raised a “red flag” and that during the meeting, neither Sykes nor Leftwich offered input on the transition coordinator language.
Sykes, who did not return phone calls from the Gazette, later told investigators he was suspicious of the language, but thought it would be vetted out in committee.
Terrill contacted Sykes on May 25 and told him he was going to divert money to the Medical Examiner’s Office from the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics’ Drug Money Laundering and Wire Transmitter Revolving Fund, and that OBN Director Darrell Weaver had been notified, the charges state.
Weaver told Sykes that he did not like the diversion, but he was powerless to stop it since Terrill was his appropriation chairman, the charges state.
That same week, Leftwich contacted Jordan to express that she was looking forward to working with him and that they would “make a great team,” the charges state. However, Jordan announced his resignation from the office on May 24.
Bill 738 passed the House on May 27. The next day, which was the final
day of the legislative session, House Bill 2486 — the funding bill —
passed. That same day, Leftwich announced she was not seeking
re-election to the Senate, and three days later, Christian announced he
was running for Leftwich’s seat.
‘WAY OF LIFE’
When Prater’s investigation into the case became public on June 4, Christian dropped out of the race. In November, he was re-elected to his House seat and Republican Ralph Shortey won Leftwich’s seat.
Both SB 738 and HB 2486 were vetoed June 6 by then-Gov. Brad Henry. Charges were not filed against Terrill and Leftwich until December.
Some comments in the charges filed against Terrill and Leftwich don’t directly address the two, but reference the culture at the Capitol.
After interviewing multiple sources, Gary Eastridge, an investigator in the district attorney’s office, wrote that the last weeks of the legislative session are often chaotic, and legislators take advantage of the chaos by slipping “special” language into bills that otherwise would be vetted.
One lobbyist told Eastridge that if the public were to find out about the practice, it would not be pleased.
do it every session; that’s just the way it is,” Eastridge quoted the
unnamed lobbyist as saying. “You will destroy our way of life at the
Capitol if the public learns of what it is really like in the last