Trial Ordered In Oklahoma Legislature Bribery Case
Jamie Oberg, News 9 and Associated Press Reports
OKLAHOMA CITY -- One current Oklahoma legislator and a former state senator are to be tried on bribery charges, a judge ruled Friday.
Rep. Randy Terrill of Moore and ex-Sen. Debbe Leftwich are accused of scheming to set Leftwich up in a state job and prop up a candidate for her former seat. Both deny the allegations. If convicted they could each be sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Prosecutors allege that Terrill, a Republican from Moore, offered Leftwich, a Democrat from Oklahoma City, an $80,000-a-year job at the state Medical Examiner's Office last year in exchange for Leftwich's promise not to seek re-election so that a Republican colleague could run.
"I think the prosecution is politically motivated," Stephen Jones, attorney for Rep. Terrill said.
Terrill's attorney said no crime was committed.
"Mr. Terrill certainly has his enemies politically," Jones said. "I think the state senate wanted to punish Debbe Leftwich because she wouldn't run for re-election."
Rep. Mike Christian of Oklahoma City announced for the seat but pulled out when the investigation was announced.
Lawyers for Leftwich and Terrill argued that their actions were constitutionally protected because they were acting in their official capacity as legislators.
"I simply see the prosecution as politics by another name," Jones said.
Prosecutors argued that talks involving the alleged plot occurred outside of any official duties and thus are fair game as evidence for the state. The judge denied their bid to add conspiracy charges against Leftwich and Terrill.
Christian wasn't charged. He instead pursued a successful re-election effort to his House seat.
Oklahoma secretary of state Glenn Coffee was co-author of legislation passed last year that reformed the board that administers the Medical Examiner's Office.
The bill created a new three-year position within the office called transition coordinator with a salary of $80,000 a year. The position would help oversee construction and relocation of the agency's new office, according to witnesses in the case.
During proceedings Wednesday, Coffee, the former leader of the Oklahoma Senate, testified that it would be inappropriate to pass legislation that creates a state job for a state lawmaker.
Coffee said the legislation came in response to numerous problems and complaints about the office that investigates violent and suspicious deaths.
Former Gov. Brad Henry vetoed the legislation after investigators began looking into the alleged bribery plot.
Coffee testified that he heard rumors Leftwich was interested in the job but said he also heard that others were interested. He said it would not have been inappropriate for Leftwich to apply, but that guaranteeing her the position would not be not allowed.
Leftwich had worked at the Medical Examiner's Office previously.
He also said a state law prohibits lawmakers from taking state jobs funded with appropriated state money for two years after they leave office.
Defense attorneys for Terrill and Leftwich have said Terrill did not have the authority to promise a job to Leftwich.
Terrill's attorney told News 9, they were not surprised at all by the judge's ruling Friday and said they will be ready for trial.
Terrill and Leftwich are scheduled back to court in December, both staring at a ten-year prison sentence, if found guilty.