Steele forming Terrill investigation committee

By M. Scott Carter

[ JANUARY 31, 2011 – OKLAHOMA CITY, OK ] – The Republican leader of the Oklahoma House of Representatives said he is forming a special bipartisan committee to investigate the allegations that led to state Rep. Randy Terrill being charged with felony bribery.

House Speaker Kris Steele made the announcement Friday. Steele said it was appropriate for the House to conduct its own investigation on Terrill, a Republican from Moore.

“The circumstances surrounding this situation are serious and merit inquiry to determine if misuse or abuse of office occurred,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “According to the Oklahoma Constitution Article 5 section 30, the House of Representatives is responsible to oversee the conduct of its members. After carefully reviewing our options and obligations, I believe it is appropriate for the House to conduct its own investigation of this matter. I am confident a bipartisan committee can conduct a thorough review and facilitate an investigatory process that complies with the rule of law, respects the rights of the accused, and fulfills our duty to the public.”

Legal experts say House leaders have several options available for their investigation.

“Under the separation of power clause in the Oklahoma Constitution, the Legislature and the executive branch patrol their own people,” said Fred Leibrock, a litigation partner at the Oklahoma City law firm of Phillips Murrah. “Each body has to respect the inner workings of the other branches.”

That part of the constitution, he said, allows the House to determine the rules of its proceedings and to punish its members for disorderly behavior and with the concurrence of two-thirds expel a member.

“They can vote to expel without a vote from the other chamber,” Leibrock said.

And while the state’s constitution doesn’t define disorderly behavior, Leibrock said conduct that would qualify as a felony would certainly qualify as disorderly behavior.

“Assuming that the allegations are correct, I believe that would certainly be defined as disorderly behavior,” he said.

Should the House choose a different punishment, Leibrock said members could vote to clear Terrill or to censure him.

“They can pretty much do what they want up to expulsion,” he said.

Leibrock also noted the committee charged with investigating Terrill would have subpoena power to bring in witnesses and gather testimony.

Steele said the committee would be composed of four Republicans and four Democrats. He said he expects the committee to begin its work after the Legislature convenes on Feb. 7.

In December, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater charged Terrill and former state Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, with felony bribery following a six-month investigation. Prater claimed Terrill created a special position for Leftwich in exchange for her withdrawal as a candidate for her state Senate seat. Court documents say Terrill sought to help state Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, who wanted to run for the seat. Christian was not charged, but later withdrew his candidacy for the seat.

A hearing on Prater’s charges is set for March in Oklahoma County District Court. Terrill has denied wrongdoing and called the charges a political witch hunt by Prater, a Democrat.