Rep. Kevin Calvey (R- Oklahoma City) has introduced House Bill 2206, a bill that would prohibit Oklahoma’s district attorneys from prosecuting any state officials accused of a public offense and grant that authority exclusively to the state’s Attorney General. The bill proposes the following:
“The jurisdiction of a prosecution against a principal in the commission of a public offense, when such principal is a state elected official, state legislator, district court judicial officer, appellate judicial officer or an appointee of a state board or state commission at the time of the commission of the offense, is within the sole and exclusive prosecutorial authority of the Attorney General of Oklahoma. Such an action must be filed in the county of residence of the state officer.”
Calvey said that he authored the bill not because of any recent malicious prosecutions of officials in Oklahoma, but in light of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s 2014 indictment on charges of abuse of power. Perry was accused last year of threatening to veto millions in funding to the state’s Public Integrity Unit, headed by Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s office, unless Lehmberg stepped down from her position. Perry called on Lehmberg to step down after she spent 45 days in jail following a guilty plea for drunk driving; Lehmberg refused and the PIU funding was vetoed.
Calvey called Perry’s indictment a “witch hunt” and filed the bill to prevent similar incidents from occurring in Oklahoma. “The origin of it has nothing to do with anything that’s occurred in Oklahoma. It’s my concern over what’s going on in Texas with this witch hunt by a local prosecutor,” Calvey said.
“I do think it’s just better to prevent that kind of thing from ever arising,” Calvey said. “The point is to not allow a locally elected official to effectively have undue influence over statewide policy.”
Calvey said that a district attorney would “not necessarily” be prevented from filing a charge such as drunk driving against a legislator or judge, but has yet to specify what would be considered a public offense. “The tough part is defining where that line is,” he said.
District attorneys in Oklahoma have expressed their concern with Calvey’s bill. “This bill creates a different class of citizens that would be protected from the normal prosecution process,” said Oklahoma County District attorney David Prater, who has prosecuted legislators and a judge in the past. Prater noted that he was “suspicious” that Calvey’s bill might be in retaliation to previous prosecution of state officials, according to The Oklahoman.
“How does shifting the responsibility of prosecution from one politically elected official to another politically elected official solve the problem?” asked Pottawatomie and Lincoln County district attorney Richard Smothermon. “The attorney general probably faces more political pressure on a day-to-day basis than I’ve ever faced.”
Prater pointed out that the attorney general already has authority to overtake any criminal case. If the Attorney General believed that a district attorney’s prosecution of a state official involved political persecution, “he can step in and take that case over without asking anyone permission.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt reportedly finds the proposed legislation unnecessary. Will Gattenby, Pruitt’s press secretary, said that district attorneys and the attorney general currently “have concurrent jurisdiction in the prosecution of state officials” and “we partner and work with district attorneys across the state in investigations and prosecutions utilizing the grand jury process on behalf of the citizens of Oklahoma.”
“We see no reason for a statutory change unless there is some evidence of abuse as has been seen outside of Oklahoma,” said Gattenby.