151 Band

Friday, January 07, 2011

Hidden Story: State DUI Arrests Increasing

Drunk driving statistics are what they are and according to a few pieces out there in the mainstream media, arrests are on the increase.  The reasons are difficult to ascertain - it could simply be that law enforcement is becoming increasingly adept at nailing drunk drivers or it could be that there are more people who haven't gotten the message just yet. 

Here is a story from the Tulsa World's Deon Hampton, December 31, 2010:

With the number of drunken driving arrests increasing statewide, law enforcement officials are cautioning everyone to be aware of intoxicated motorists on New Year's Eve. 
There were 18,996 total arrests made for DUI in Oklahoma in 2009 and 18,980 in 2008, U.S. Department of Justice records show. 
Those numbers are a large increase over the 15,884 arrests made in 2005. 
More arrests are expected New Year's Eve when highway patrol troopers will stop drivers at various checkpoints.
Trooper Quenton Payne said troopers are looking for speeders, drivers erratically changing lanes or failing to use signals and cars with inactive head and taillights.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently released a study that found 10 percent of those surveyed admitted to driving while being drunk in the last year. 
The roadside service agency also says 209 people were killed and 3,452 injured in vehicle collisions in Oklahoma where alcohol played a role in 2009. 
Three out of about 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash during their lives, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In a story from the previous day, the paper talks about the fines, the trouble that comes with a DUI. 
Stephen Fabian Jr., an Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney since 1986, said that attorney fees can run from $500 to about $50,000, depending on whether there was an alcohol-related crash or injury and whether it's a first offense. 
Fabian said a simple first-offense misdemeanor charge usually costs $3,500 to $5,000 in lawyer's fees, but court costs in Oklahoma County District Court run about $950 per case. 
A judge also can order you to pay for your jail costs. An overnight stay in the Oklahoma County jail can fluctuate but costs an average of $45 a day, Oklahoma County sheriff's spokesman Mark Myers said. 
And that's not taking into consideration actual fines for pleading guilty or being convicted of driving with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 or higher or the traffic violations which resulted in the traffic stop or wreck. 
The first offense for DUI is a misdemeanor, punishable by a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. 
A district attorney supervision fee during a probationary period, if there is one, is $40 a month in Oklahoma County, Fabian said.
A law firm has its own basket at DPS.
But there are some inherent problems here.  First, if the DUI takes place in a rural municipality, it is up to the municipality to determine whether or not they will allow the charges reduced to say, reckless driving.  Second, the way the system is set up right now, municipalities don't have to report to the District Courts.  Meaning, if a DUI takes place in, say, Crescent, Oklahoma, the case will not be reported to District Courts and not show up on any of the OSCN records.  The reasons for this are multitudinous - including revenue streams for local municipalities and the Trial Bar.  If an attorney has the ability to negotiate with the municipality and plead the case for a lesser charge, the more billable hours the attorney can rack up and more revenue can be produced for the municipality in fines, etc.  Lastly, the state statutes regarding the Department of Public Safety are pretty iron-clad and that is some relief.  But clearly, the problem isn't going away and the statistics themselves show that whatever we're doing now isn't working.

[Note:  DUI in Oklahoma has become a cottage industry for the Trial Bar.  So much so that the law firm of the gentleman mentioned above has its own basket at the Department of Public Safety.  See above.]

The system is horribly broken and it needs repair sooner rather than later.

Lord willing, we can get something done.

Carol Hefner Robocalls And Response

The race that no one really believed would get much attention is finally getting some much-needed attention.  Beginning with an article in the Oklahoman this week, followed by robocalls, the Senate District 47 race is heating up.

Here are two of the many robocalls sent out this week, including the "attack" on Carol Hefner and her very heated and audibly frustrated response:

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Carol Hefner Finances, Goza Hot Rod

The Oklahoman's John Estus provided voters of Senate District 47 with an interesting look at two of their candidates.  Carol Hefner and Kenny Goza are remarkably different people with remarkably different backgrounds.  Hefner is, well, a Hefner and Goza is a self-made man who grew up in the foster care system.  But the Oklahoman does a pretty good job of being fair.

From the article (here):
Hefner said she decided to stop paying her credit card bill because of fees she disagreed with.
“This is an issue of fiscal responsibility. People have to hold these large debit and credit corporations accountable for good practices and that's what I chose to do,” Hefner said.
Hefner said she stopped paying the credit card bill for about three months.
In addition, a foreclosure against Hefner and her husband was dismissed last year when they refinanced the $319,580 mortgage on their Edmond home, court records show.
“It's just big dogs trying to push you around. That's all that was,” Hefner said.
A 2009 lawsuit against the Hefners regarding unpaid car payments on a 2006 Land Rover was dismissed within a few days of it being filed.
Hefner said the Land Rover was her husband's car and she didn't know about the lawsuit.
Hefner is touting herself as the family values candidate in the race, but how in the heck does she NOT know about a lawsuit against her husband?  Doesn't make sense to me.
Goza has some issues too, but they are from 1994 - not recent and are polar opposites.  While Hefner gets attention for not paying for her toys, Goza gets attention for protecting his:
Senate District 47 candidate Kenny Goza, 41, and another man, Jason Long, filed protective orders against one another in 1994 in Cleveland County, court records show.
Goza, who is now an attorney, said the filings were the result of a dispute about his hot rod.
“Back in those days, I had a hot rod and I didn't like anybody being around my hot rod and I was very protective of it,” Goza said. “(Long), I guess, was jealous, and had threatened to slash my tires once and I didn't take that too lightly.”
Bottom line:  With the exception of perhaps James Lankford, no candidate for public office is lily-white, but the contrast between these two Senate District 47 candidates could not be more stark.  Of course, career political insider Greg Treat is probably liking this more than just a little bit.  Treat is well-liked by GOP staffers because, well, Treat has been one his whole adult life.  But I digress.

Read John Estus' story in its entirety here.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Questions About "Tort Reform"

Tort reform is one of the answers many conservatives tout to solve our economic development problems.  Fear of lawsuits make business owners pensive, existing lawsuits cause the price of insurance to skyrocket and as we have all heard "doctors are fleeing Oklahoma" because of our lack of tort reform.  Let's face it:  Everyone hates attorneys until they need one.  Even Shakespeare wrote, "First, kill all the lawyers.

But didn't our founding fathers desire average citizens to have access to the courts for the redress of wrongs?

I admit that I'm not a Constitutional lawyer, but the 7th Amendment does give us the right to a jury trial in civil cases.
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
It's sexy to rail against the trial lawyers and in many cases, the anger and ire toward them is more than justified.  Frivolous lawsuits exist, but in Oklahoma, they represent a very small percentage of lawsuits.  And according to the Oklahoma Constitution, the legislature has the power to censure judges who allow frivolous lawsuits - but they do not because judges are political just like legislators.

To the credit of trial lawyers, child labor laws were amended and justifiably so.  To the credit of trial lawyers, COBRA insurance coverage is the law of the land.  To the credit of trial lawyers, women have the right to vote.  So you see, not all trial lawyers are bad.

Ask yourself this question:  If a loved one is killed or disfigured by a medical professional who is willfully negligent, can you honestly put a price cap on that life?  Really?

Tort reform advocates like to scream from the mountaintops about the now legendary McDonald's lawsuit where their coffee was too hot and an elderly woman suffered severe burns.  What they don't want you to know is that the location in question had been cited by the health department previously on numerous occasions because...wait for it...their coffee was too hot.

Something to think about...

Fox 25 Coverage of Secretary of State Pick

Questions are being asked, emails are churning and the buzz has begun over the Governor-elect's choice for Secretary of State and as stated yesterday, there is a whole lot more to the job than meets the eye.  Fox 25's Andrew Speno asked some hard questions and got some answers that the voters and taxpayers of Oklahoma will have to determine whether or not they will accept them at face value.

Here is the story:

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Secretary Of State: Who Dat?

The appointment of former State Senator Glenn Coffee to Secretary of State has created quite the buzz among Constitutional conservatives and even moderate-to-liberal Democrats.  Republicans involved in the discussion imply that the Secretary of State is not as important as, say, the Lt. Governor - whose Constitutional role includes ribbon-cutting and possesses the title of President of the Senate. 

The issue of whether or not Coffee can take the job because of the Constitutional referendum on legislators taking a state job may be a moot point because the statute is specific to positions created by the legislature.  The Secretary of State is a Constitutional post - but it sure as hell may be time to revisit that law and have it include a two year moratorium on ALL state jobs for a period of two years.  Of course, the legislature probably wouldn't go for that because the vast majority of our elected officials are chomping at the bits to trade-up, to get better, more lucrative government paychecks.

But just what in the heck does the Secretary of State do in the great state of Oklahoma?

If you have ever started a business in Oklahoma, you've been to the Secretary of State's office where you filed your paperwork.  But there is a whole lot more and most people just don't understand...until now.

From the Secretary of State's website:
The Secretary of State is required by law to attest to the Governor's signature and to file all official acts of the Governor. Executive orders, appointments and proclamations signed and issued by the Governor are certified and distributed by the Secretary of State.
Original certificates of pardons and paroles are recorded and filed in the Office of the Secretary of State. Foreign and domestic extraditions are also recorded and maintained in this office.
For the "average Joe," the above may or may not have much significance.  But the following does:
Under the provision of the Oklahoma Constitution, the judges of any court exercising judicial power shall be subject to removal from office, or to compulsory retirement from office by the Court on the Judiciary.
The Secretary of State is required to determine and designate five (5) district judges to serve on the Appellate Division and eight (8) district judges to serve on the Trial Division of the Court on Judiciary.
Every odd-numbered year this office is responsible for organizing the meeting for the Court on Judiciary to make or amend their rules of procedure as mandated by the Oklahoma Constitution.
Why is this important?  Do the math.  How many of our judges are set to retire in the next few years and who will be involved in this process?  A former State Senator who works for one of the most powerful law firms in Oklahoma.

But wait, there's more.
Through the initiative and referendum process, the citizens of Oklahoma reserve the power to propose laws and amendments to the state Constitution. They also reserve the right to approve or reject certain laws, amendments and acts of the Legislature through this process.
Statewide initiative and referendum petitions are filed in the Office of the Secretary of State. After circulation of the petition, this office counts and binds the signature pamphlets. If the signatures are sufficient, the state question is placed on the ballot for a vote of the people. New laws adopted by the people are published in the Oklahoma Statutes or Oklahoma Constitution.
Think about it, kids.

Now you know what it's so bloody important. 

So, you decide:   Is cronyism alive and well in the Oklahoma GOP?

Coffee Named SOS

I told you so.  Former State Senator has been named by Mary Fallin to the post of Secretary of State.

Will Oklahoma County District Attorney, David Prater, respond?

From Mary's release:

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor-elect Mary Fallin today announced she has selected Glenn Coffee to serve as secretary of state.

Coffee, who was the first Republican to serve as president pro tempore of the Oklahoma State Senate, currently serves as co-chairman of the governor-elect’s transition committee.

“My focus as governor of Oklahoma will be to implement pro-growth, fiscally responsible and conservative policies to move this state forward,” Fallin said. “Glenn Coffee’s leadership and experience as a legislator will go a long way in helping our team be successful and I’m proud to have him serve in my cabinet.”

First elected to the Oklahoma State Senate in 1998, Coffee served in a variety of leadership posts including, Republican Caucus chairman (2000-2002), Assistant Minority Floor Leader (2002-2004), and Minority Floor Leader (2004-2006). Coffee served as Senate co-president pro tempore (2007-08) after Republicans won a historic tie in the Oklahoma State Senate in the 2006 elections.  He was named a “legislator of the year” in 2010 by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

As secretary of state, Coffee will work on behalf of the governor-elect to advance Fallin’s legislative agenda and will represent the governor during budget negotiations in addition to performing the statutory duties of the office.  Additionally, Coffee will serve as a liaison to Oklahoma’s American Indian tribes.

“Governor-elect Fallin has told me that she wants to use every tool available to create more jobs and opportunities for working Oklahomans. I know she’ll work with state lawmakers to pursue conservative, pro-business policies to move our state forward, and I’m honored to serve in her cabinet,” Coffee said.

Coffee earned an undergraduate degree in political science from Northeastern State University and received a law degree from the University of Oklahoma College of Law. He is an alumnus of Leadership Oklahoma and Leadership OKC.  Coffee is a member of the NSU Alumni Association and is a founding member of the Oklahoma Legislature Sportsmen’s Caucus.

He lives in Oklahoma City with his wife Lisa and their four children, sons Collin and Blaine and daughters Anna and Kate.