By Jennifer Loren, Oklahoma Impact
MUSKOGEE -- From the Federal Courthouse in Muskogee, Judge Ronald White has presided over several of Oklahoma's most high-profile federal cases: the corruption case involving former State Senator Gene Stipe, the John Grisham libel suit and the dispute over the Ten Commandments monument at the Haskell County Courthouse.
But, when it comes to Judge White's own conduct, he's kept a low profile, until now.
We discovered a document from the Tenth Circuit Court in Denver reprimanding Judge White for misconduct. It was published three months ago but unless you know what you were looking for it's difficult to find.
The 10th Circuit hired a retired FBI agent to go to Muskogee and investigate Judge White. The investigation found White used his power to appoint friends to be special judges in settlement proceedings even though they were unqualified.
We obtained court documents showing Judge White assigned Bryan Harston and Frank Medearis to be judges in settlement proceedings. Their connections to the judge differ.
Judge White and Bryan Harston attended law school together and according to an old fraternity picture on Facebook the two are old friends. Medearis is an attorney in Muskogee and said to be a friend of a friend of Judge White's.
White also broke the rules by ordering his friends be paid. In Hartson's case, we found a document ordering he be paid $1,500 in fees for one case. But, it says in Judge White's own court rules, "They shall be invited to serve without compensation."
But Harston is more than a friend to Judge White. He also owns a business in Texas called Idea Ranch. According to a financial disclosure statement Judge White is required to provide he is an investor in Idea Ranch.
A spokesman for the 10th Circuit says it's extremely rare to find actual misconduct in the federal system and says this is serious. However, he says, it does not rise to the level of impeachment.
White's punishment is a simple online statement, "The Judicial Council publicly reprimands Judge White for this conduct."
The statement is published in a hard-to-find area of the 10th Circuit website. There was no news release, no alert to the public or the Bar Association. White was also reprimanded for making inappropriate comments during court proceedings. The order does say Judge White acknowledged and apologized for his conduct.
White refused to do an on-camera interview, but released this statement, "I regret but respect the decision of the Council. I have apologized and look forward to continue serving the Eastern District of Oklahoma."
Attorneys involved in the settlement proceedings declined to comment because of the possibility their future cases could be heard by Judge White.