Two months after saying she was saving money by not employing a full-time public relations/media person, District Attorney Janice Steidley has hired a Tulsa television personality as her office’s first fulltime community outreach coordinator.
Steidley announced the addition of Michelle Lowry, a producer and reporter for the past decade for KJRH-TV (Channel 2), late Tuesday, along with the resignation of Bryce Lair, first district attorney for Rogers, Craig and Mayers counties.
Lair, a state prosecutor for eight years, is leaving at year’s end to enter private law practice. He will be replaced as Steidley’s top assistant by Larry Edwards, who served 14 years in the Tulsa County District Attorney’s office.
Edwards has a rich history as a gang and drug prosecutor in Tulsa County. He also has 10 years of experience in private practice and has tried more than 140 jury trials, according to Steidley.
As a prosecutor, she said, Edwards worked closely with members of the Tulsa Police Department in the investigation of the 1981 murder of Tulsa businessman Roger Wheeler. She said Edwards received cross-designation as Special U.S. Attorney out of Massachusetts in connecting mobsters Stephen Flemmi, Johnny Martorano, and James “Whitey” Bulger to Wheeler’s murder following his weekly golf game at the Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa.
Steidley said Lowry will handle community relations, outreach and planning crime prevention education events. She left KJRH recently as a member of the station’s “Problem Solvers” news team. She has a college degree in broadcast journalism and worked as a reporter and anchor for TV stations in Arkansas and Missouri before joining KJRH in 2003.
“Part of the outreach involves coordinating with helping agencies in the communities served with the 12th District,” said Steidley. “She will be involved with public relations specific to informing members of the media about upcoming cases of interest and sharing information about individuals and organizations working to improve our communities.”
Steidley did not disclose Lowry’s salary, but in early October, the district attorney took issue with a story in The Daily Progress about payments by her office to a public relations firm owned by John M. Wylie and his wife, Faith, publishers of the weekly Oologah Lake Leader.
Steidley said she had used Wylie Communications for research, consultation and press releases “on an as needed basis” to constrain costs by not having to employ “a fulltime PR/media person, like many other agencies do.We arrange for those types of services only when necessary.”
It was not clear if Lowry’s hiring would end the relationship with Wylie Communications, a tie that ethics experts with the national Society of Professional Journalists had questioned as appropriate given the Wylies’ newspaper ownership.
Steidley has been under fire for several months from local law enforcement officials and others.
She is the subject of a multicounty grand jury inquiry into accusations of misconduct by Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton, Claremore police officers John Singer and Steve Cox and other sponsors of a petition drive to convene a local grand jury.
The district attorney has steadfastly denied the allegations and, in turn, filed a defamation lawsuit against Walton, Singer, Cox and other organizers of the grand jury petition, which was rejected by a judge in October on the ground it did not comply with state law.
The multicounty grand jury is scheduled to meet this month but there’s no indication when it will hand up its findings on Steidley’s office. It was given the case in mid-October by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.