By Christopher Zoukis
Oklahoma City District Attorney David Prater announced on March 13, 2013 that all five members of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board (“Board”) had been charged with criminal violations of the state’s Open Meeting Act in connection with some 51 early release requests that the Board considered but did not list on its public agendas since 2010.
The Board members were charged with misdemeanor violations of the Open Meeting Act, an offense punishable by up to a year in jail and a $500 fine for each willful violation pursuant to 25 Okla. Stat. § 313, 314. Additionally, a willful violation of the Act can result in invalidation of actions taken during a meeting not in compliance with the Act.
Board Chairman Marc Dreyer, 66, and members Currie Ballard, 54, Richard L. Dugger, 74 (a former district attorney), and Lynnell Harkins, 73, were charged with 10 counts of willful violation of the Act – one for each month they voted on early release requests after April 2011, when a state Assistant Attorney General held a training session on open meeting requirements for the Board. Board member David E. Moore, 65, was charged with nine counts.
District Attorney Prater issued a news release that alleged the Board had conducted business in a way “designed to hide potentially unpopular actions from the citizens it serves.” In a letter to the Board in August 2011, Prater warned that the Board’s failure to provide public notice of its early release deliberations was “egregious, aggravated, and a clear attempt to operate in secrecy, outside of public scrutiny.” In January 2013, Prater gave the Board members a chance to resign before charges were filed – an offer they rejected.