The Pardon and Parole Board has secretly hired a prominent Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney to represent the agency and its five board members while they are under investigation.
The board agreed to pay attorney Mack Martin up to $19,999 in public funds, records show.
All five board members signed the contract even though they never officially voted to hire the attorney.
Board members also never discussed at their last two public meetings anything about hiring a defense attorney.
Their latest meeting included a long progress report on the first day, Oct. 16, about efforts to make the board meetings more open and transparent.
The Oklahoma County district attorney's office and the Oklahoma attorney general's office have investigations of the parole board under way. The board already has provided thousands of records to investigators in response to two subpoenas from the state's last multicounty grand jury.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater is investigating whether the board violated the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act.
Prater began a criminal investigation after learning the board had not given any notice to the public in dozens of instances where inmates initially were considered for early release. The prosecutor could file misdemeanor charges after his investigators finish their review of documents.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt is conducting a separate investigation.
Pruitt told The Oklahoman in September: “The investigations are similar in the sense that they are focused upon whether the Pardon and Parole Board has engaged in practices that are inconsistent with the Open Meeting or Open Records laws.”
Martin is charging the board $250 an hour. His normal rate is $400 an hour. He told the board his firm will “exert our best professional efforts at all times on your behalf.”
Martin cannot be paid from public funds to continue to represent the board members if they are ever charged.
The board's chairman, Marc Dreyer, defended how the attorney was hired. He said it was handled like any other contract, by the agency's staff. He said board members never approve contracts.
“We don't review or, even for that matter, get a report about any contracts that the agency negotiates, from the Xerox contract to contracts with the Office of State Finance to run our payroll or whatever,” said Dreyer, who is senior pastor at Memorial Baptist Church in Tulsa.
“I'm sure that some would say, ‘Well, that looks like they did something secretly.' But, again, we didn't, anymore than we adopted our Xerox contract secretly. Because we didn't do it. It was done by the staff.”
He said the board's executive director, Terry Jenks, actually signed the contract on behalf of the agency. He said board members signed later because the attorney wanted them to acknowledge he was representing them individually, too.
“We didn't discuss this. It wasn't done in a board meeting. We signed at different times on different days,” Dreyer said.
He said board members could not talk about hiring the defense attorney during their meetings because of a legal reason. The board's general counsel, Tracy George, said “the agency was and is prohibited from disclosing the existence of what Mr. Martin has been retained for because of a court order.”
The general counsel sent a copy of the contract to The Oklahoman but blacked out part of it because of that court order.
The blacked-out part apparently refers to the grand jury subpoenas for records and to the attorney general's investigation. In every subpoena, the multicounty grand jury's judge orders the recipient not to disclose its existence.