CLAREMORE — Assistant District Attorney Barry Farbro told County commissioners that convicted felons should be prohibited from county employment based on interpretation of state law by the District Attorney’s office.
That’s the local opinion.
Due to the “potential far-reaching effect of this interpretation,” District Attorney Gene Haynes is referring the matter to the Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General. The impact could affect all 77 counties, statewide.
The District Attorney's office felt “very comfortable” according to Farbro, in issuing legal opinions in two specific situations regarding county employment of convicted felons:
1. Any elected official or employee who has committed a crime during their employment or who is still serving a portion of their sentence whether in the form of jail time or a deferred sentence is not eligible for employment.
2. Regarding employees who have paid their debt to society and been discharged from the Department of Corrections system, the DA’s office recommended commissioners “take no action at this time.” This decision relates to public, not private, employment of felons.
According to Haynes, the State Attorney General’s office may choose not to rule on the matter. If he does not, the matter will revert back to Hayne’s office. If that happens, Haynes’ interpretation of the State Statutes will call for any county employee who has a standing felony record to be terminated whether or not they have been discharged by the DOC.
Haynes said this employment issue has the “potential to be wide reaching” and that he believes it “needs to be cleared up legislatively” due to some contradictions and ambiguities in current law. Much of the legislation targets elected officials but does include employees. The primary source for Haynes’ interpretation is based on Title 51 Section 24.1.
Recent attention focused by Oologah Lake Leader Publisher John Wylie on District 2 county employee Scott Casler was one of the catalysts which brought this matter to the attention of the Board of Commissioners. Casler, an admitted felon who was discharged by DOC on Nov. 4, 2003, will be affected regardless of the Attorney General’s opinion. Casler’s state DOC file is inactive, meaning he has served his time and had completed probation by Nov.4, 2003.
Farbro suggested to commissioners that whatever the outcome, Rogers County should consider doing background checks and creating a “standard, uniform application form” that asks prospective employees whether they have ever been convicted of a felony.
The written opinion of the DA’s office states that “any person who is a convicted felon... should have his or her criminal record scrutinized in order to protect the public and co-workers from potential harm and to protect the county from risk of liability from claims of negligent hiring or negligent retention of an employee who is potentially dangerous or who presents a high degree of risk for engaging in criminal activity involving fraud, embezzlement, dishonesty, and other crimes against the public trust...”
Commissioner Kirt Thacker asked when the board might expect to hear an opinion from the attorney general’s office. Farbro said that he did not know the timeline, but that “our office has done most of the research.”
Haynes said as far as he knows the county is not running any kind of background checks at this time. Felony convictions can include anything from writing a hot check for over $500 to multiple Driving Under the Influence (DUI) charges to murder. The first DUI is considered a misdemeanor, after that any DUI is considered a felony.
Haynes said a general guideline for determining if a crime is a felony would be anything with a potential punishment greater than one year imprisonment.
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