Rogers County citizens who helped circulate the court-rejected grand jury petition to investigate the district attorney’s office were on edge Thursday, potential targets of a defamation lawsuit against sponsors of the petition campaign.
District Attorney Janice Steidley and two of her top assistants listed 25 unnamed defendants under the placeholder name “John Doe” in the prosecutors’ libel suit filed Wednesday, one day after a judge tossed out the petition and its 6,994 registered voter signatures on the technical ground the signature pages included unauthorized wording.
The suit said the identity of the anonymous defendants would be revealed during the discovery phase of the legal action as residents of the county “who created, drafted, circulated, or otherwise republished” petition allegations of criminal and civil misconduct by DA Steidley and her assistants.
“It is my understanding that anyone who had a petition and gathered signatures could be a target,” said businessman Myron Grubowski, a sponsor of the grand jury petition. “Our friends, neighbors and co-workers have all become a target of this lawsuit. It is unfortunate to see the legal system used against the people it was designed to protect.”
Grubowski was named as a defendant in the suit, which seeks financial damages that could exceed $500,000, along with the five other petition sponsors: Sheriff Scott Walton, Claremore police officers John Singer and Steve Cox, businessman Russell Guilfoyle, and Billy D. Jones, father of two rape victims.
The suit, which seeks a jury trial, contends the leaders of the petition drive maliciously and wrongly accused the district attorney and her assistants of corruption and criminal and civil misconduct.
Sheriff Walton said he was informed of the defamation lawsuit by a Tulsa television station, News on 6, before he was served with a formal notice of the complaint against him. The station apparently received a copy of the suit before it was made available to the defendants or the public.
Grubowski said he signed on as a sponsor of the grand jury petition because he “wanted to make Rogers County the safest and most desirable place for people to live, go to school and worship.”
He said his background was similar to many of the people who circulated the petition: longtime resident of the county, member of the First Baptist Church, active in local charitable and civic organizations, and a supporter of Rogers State University and Claremore public schools.
Cox, a native of Claremore who went on to become a police officer, said he helped sponsor the petition “because I wanted things to be investigated by someone from the outside to determine if there was an issue and to have it resolved. I still believe in standing up for what is right and someone has to stand up at some point.”
Guilfoyle, a real estate agent, said the citizens petition was circulated because of “circumstances that arose which were not being answered clearly” and a grand jury inquiry “seemed” the only way for the public to get answers.
“It is good for any community to have clarity as to how the government works,” said Guilfoyle. “It makes it conducive for people to want to live here.”
Jones, another of the named libel suit defendants, said he collected petition signatures standing at street corners. He said he was “fighting for the rights of his children in a system, which has become badly broken.”
Jones said he was unhappy with the district attorney’s office handling of the rape case of his two young children.
“I supported this to keep others from having to deal with what my family has dealt with,” he said. “This has all become about the rights of the accused, the rights of those named in this petition. What about our rights, the people’s right, my girls rights?”