151 Band

Monday, February 14, 2011

Stephen Jones Responds To Speaker Steele

    FEBRUARY 14, 2011

The Speaker and Democratic Floor Leader have chosen eight respected members of the House of Representatives to serve on the committee to investigate allegations against Representative Terrill, and by implication former Senator Leftwich.  Mr. Terrill welcomes the appointment of the committee.  But, he feels it should have been formed eight months ago.  He also appreciates the thankless task of these members who have accepted this responsibility at the same time they are serving their constituents and discharging their other duties as legislators during a period of a financial budget crunch.

However, the public and undoubtedly most of the House will be disappointed that the so-called investigative stage of the committee will be conducted behind closed doors in secrecy.  This rule by the leadership cannot be justified, is inconsistent with what was represented to the Caucus when the committee idea was first broached by the Speaker-Elect, and it smacks of a “Star Chamber Proceeding” in a period when the public and the media have increasingly insisted on transparency and openness in government.  These leadership-imposed rules of secrecy run directly counter to that expectation the public has.  They are also counter to the actions last week which promised that legislative proceedings would be opened to the maximum extent possible.

Openness is particularly important here in view of the widespread leaks from the Executive Branch, and the District Attorney’s Office concerning these allegations.  They were marked by early violations of grand jury secrecy, and the so-called probable cause affidavit is full of speculation, factual errors, innuendos, and omissions of material facts.  It is economical with the truth.

The leadership should have insisted that this procedure be open in all respects.

Representative Terrill has committed no wrong or crime or violated the House Rules in any respect concerning this matter. 

Unlike his accusers who continue to whisper from the shadows, he is prepared to go on the record publicly regarding his knowledge of the events in question.  Anyone who claims to have knowledge of the facts should likewise be willing to testify publicly.

What the rules imposed on the committee by the leadership create is a period of closed-door investigation in which neither Mr. Terrill nor his counsel are present.  This closed-door secrecy cannot be justified.  The committee is not a grand jury.  A grand jury is part of the criminal process conducted by the Executive Branch.  Indeed, in Oklahoma there is so much distrust of grand juries, that 99% of all criminal cases that go forward are heard by a magistrate in open court. 

Here, the committee will apparently take testimony in secret without cross examination and without the public evaluation of the credibility of the testimony at this critical stage.  Without cross examination and publicly opened hearings, the testimony is tentative at best.  It could be used by others as nothing more than a dress rehearsal and an opportunity for them to clean up their testimony before repeating it to the public. 

Moreover, the process is fundamentally unfair to Mr. Terrill at this stage.  Witnesses who provide information have the luxury of making these accusations secretly and without the apprehension of cross examination.
My client is not afraid of the truth or testifying publicly.

The public should insist, and the media should likewise insist, that the leadership should reconsider its rules.  This process should be open.  It is important for the integrity of the House of Representatives, its members, and is equally important to the public’s right to know. 

As a historical note, when Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin was under investigation by the United States Senate in 1954, a committee of distinguished Senators conducted the investigative stage openly and publicly with the right of Senator McCarthy to be present and cross examination of witnesses by his counsel. 
The House of Representatives and the people of Oklahoma are entitled to no less.

The fact that in the third and final stage the committee proposes to have open hearings is not a satisfactory redress.  At that point, it becomes more of a theater than a properly constituted hearing into the facts.