UPDATE: 7,711 signatures filed for Grand Jury probe
Judge Van Dyck seals signers names, verification process begins
Salesha Wilken Staff Reporter
Sponsors of a citizens petition drive for a grand jury investigation of District Attorney Janice Steidley, three of her assistants and two county commissioners turned in 7,711 signatures Wednesday to Rogers County Court Clerk Kim Henry.
The signatures on 648 pages were presented a week before the deadline to submit the names of 4,487 registered voters in order to convene the grand jury.
Also Wednesday, Claremore Police Detective John Singer, who has a pending federal lawsuit against DA Steidley, filed a motion on behalf of the petition sponsors to seal the names of the signers on the ground “various Rogers County citizens have expressed fear and voice concerns” they could be retaliated against because the targets of the petition are public officials.
The motion claimed County Commissioner Mike Helm, one of the officials named in the petition, made statements on television threatening retaliation against anyone who signed it.
Grady County Judge Richard Van Dyck, who was assigned by the Oklahoma Supreme Court to preside over the petition process, promptly signed an order sealing the signatures.
The petition asks a grand jury to determine if DA Steidley should be removed from office for alleged corruption and misconduct. It also seeks an investigation into claims of malfeasance by Assistant District Attorneys David Iski, Bryce Lair and Timothy Wantland, and County Commissioners Helm and Kirt Thacker.
DA Steidley has characterized the allegations against her as “baseless and pathetic.” She’s also said the petition drive is politically motivated. The other officials have also rejected the claims against them.
Petition sponsors said they were encouraged by the citizen support for the grand jury investigation.
“Once this petition was made available, the 7,000-plus petition signatures sought us out,” said Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton, an organizer of the drive. “These people want better government in Rogers County.”
Henry, the county court clerk, said the petition drive has been a learning process, but that her office is prepared to expedite the checking of the signatures.
She said the names will be turned over immediately to the Rogers County Election Board for verification.
The election board has seven days to determine if the signatures meet legal requirements to convene a grand jury.
“We are planning to stop everything and devote our time to doing the verification,” said Julie Dermody, election board secretary. “We will be thorough and complete to get them done in a timely manner.”
State law requires the election board to give the “benefit of the doubt” to petition signers when close-call questions arise. Signatures must be counted if the signers are registered voters in Rogers County, even if addresses are not correct or they are omitted.
If sufficient signatures are validated, Judge Van Dyck will order a grand jury to convene within 30 days to begin inquiry into the issues of corruption and other wrongdoing raised in the petition.
Judge Van Dyck was assigned to review the legality of the citizens petition by the chief justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court because the presiding judge of the Rogers County District Court, Dwayne Steidley, is the first-cousin of DA Steidley’s husband..
Joining Sheriff Walton and Singer in sponsoring the petition for a grand jury investigation were Claremore Police Lt. Steve Cox; local businessmen Russell Guilfoyle and Myron Grubowski; and Billy D. Jones, the father of two juvenile rape victims.
Jones is one of many volunteers who collected signatures at the Rogers County Fair, local football games, public events, petition headquarters, as well as, at the drive-thru petition stop along J.M. Davis Boulevard.
“It is great to see the people take an interest in what is taking place,” Jones said.
“It was hard work, but I am proud of the people of Rogers County for speaking out and saying they want change.”