District Attorney Janice Steidley and her top assistants have asked a judge to reject a gag order request filed in their defamation lawsuit against sponsors of the failed petition for a grand jury investigation of the DA’s office.
Steidley and Assistant District Attorneys Bryce Lair and David Iski said the “broad-sweeping gag order” would illegally prevent them and their attorneys from discussing in public the accusations of corruption and other details in the petition that prompted the libel suit.
The gag order motion was submitted recently to Rogers County District Judge Carlos Chappelle by Claremore police officers John Singer and Steve Cox, two of the six sponsors of the grand jury petition. They contend public comments by the prosecutors and their attorneys infringed on their fair trial rights and the integrity of the judicial process.
But Steidley and her assistants countered that the request to silence them amounted to “nothing more than a vindictive effort to retaliate” for the district attorney’s successful objection to the validity of the citizens petition and rulings favorable to the DA in other cases.
They said the gag order would “cross the line both procedurally and ethically and should be denied.” They also insisted they had done “nothing inappropriate or improper.”
The prosecutors filed their defamation suit against the petition sponsors Oct. 16, one day after Tulsa Judge Jefferson Sellers threw out the petition because its nearly 7,000 valid voter signatures were collected on an unapproved form. Two days later, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt sent the accusations of corruption in the petition to the state multicounty grand jury to investigate, along with allegations by the district attorney’s office against Singer and other local law enforcement officials, including Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton.
Both sides, in the months-old prosecutors versus police conflict, have held press conferences and issued news releases, explaining their actions and answering charges that they acted inappropriately. At one point of the dispute, officers from nine law enforcement agencies requested the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation conduct a criminal inquiry into the conduct of Steidley and her staff — a move Steidley’s attorney called a “mutiny.”
One of the more contentious issues involved release of a letter by prosecutors from District Attorney Rex Duncan, who serves nearby Osage and Pawnee counties, in response to a press conference hosted by Claremore Police Chief Stan Brown in September.
Brown announced the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation had cleared Claremore police officer Singer of a perjury claim by Steidley in a rape case. Brown also said no other district attorney would pursue perjury charges against Singer.
That statement resulted in Assistant DA Lair receiving the letter from Duncan, who oversaw the Singer matter for six months, stating he was prepared to file a perjury charge against the officer before he was taken off the case in August by the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office.
In their response to the gag order motion, Steidley and her assistants described the Duncan letter as “unsolicited” — a statement contrary to Lair’s admission at the press conference that he brought Brown’s remarks to Duncan’s attention and asked him to write the letter challenging the police chief’s comments.
Officers Singer and Cox, in their gag order request, said Steidley, her assistants and their attorneys, as members of the Oklahoma Bar Association, have a duty “to ensure that cases are tried in the courtroom rather than the media.”
In reply, the prosecutors asserted that “no rule was ever violated” and that the intention of the gag order was to “impede the truth-seeking process and undermine the plaintiffs’ (prosecutors) constitutional rights.”