All five members of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board refused Friday to resign, and they again denied any wrongdoing.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater in January offered not to file criminal charges against board members if they agreed to resign. Board members had until 5 p.m. Friday to decide.
The prosecutor alleges the parole board members blatantly violated the Open Meeting Act over and over in their consideration of early release requests.
Board members and their attorneys said Friday they have rejected the district attorney's offer.
The board's chairman, Marc Dreyer, said Friday: “Each of us has given a great deal of thought and prayer to this decision and are each firmly convinced that we have not ever knowingly or willfully violated the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act nor participated in any criminal wrongdoing in our service on the board.”
Dreyer, a Tulsa minister, said: “It would be easy to step down, for the compensation is minimal, the work is overwhelming and the criticism is ample, but we believe that we are doing a service that is important and that we do it well.”
The proposed deal called for board members to leave in stages over a few months so the parole process would not be disrupted.
The deal was to be structured so that new members could be appointed and begin considering cases before all the current members left.
Charges are likely
The next likely step in the dispute is the filing of criminal charges against the board members — Dreyer; Currie Ballard, of Langston; Lynnell Harkins, of Moore; David Moore, of Edmond; and Richard L. Dugger, of Oklahoma City.
A violation of the Open Meeting Act is a misdemeanor. The maximum punishment is a $500 fine and a year in jail.
“I would hope we could continue to try to address your concerns about this matter without facing criminal charges,” the board's defense attorney, Mack Martin, told the district attorney in a text message.
Dugger's attorney, John Coyle, wrote Prater in a letter: “Mr. Dugger is certainly willing to work with you to address your concerns and continues to hope that this can be accomplished in a sense of cooperation and not in an adversarial setting.”
Coyle told The Oklahoman: “These are honorable people who work hard to achieve a just result in every case.”
Prater in August complained to the parole board that he had discovered it had taken up requests for early release about 50 times since the start of 2010 without proper notice to the public.
“The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board's violations in this matter are egregious, aggravated and a clear attempt to operate in secrecy, outside of public scrutiny,” Prater wrote.
His investigators have been gathering and reviewing records for months to support the filing of possibly dozens of counts.
Sparking the district attorney's complaint was an early release request involving a killer, Maelene Chambers.
Prater found the board had voted last March, without any notice to the public, prosecutors or the victim's family, to consider her request further.
Chambers went to prison in 2008 after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter for a drunken-driving death. She was not yet eligible for parole but the parole board was being asked to recommend to the governor that her prison time be commuted. Her request was put on hold after Prater complained.
Other prosecutors have made similar complaints. In December, McIntosh County District Attorney Rob Barris complained to the parole board that prosecutors in 2010 learned of a killer's commutation request from the media, after the request had made it to the governor.
The parole board's chairman, Dreyer, said the board acted immediately and unanimously to seek out ways to address Prater's concerns when he first raised them last summer.
Dreyer said: “We have made changes in our procedures, are revamping our dockets and our website, all to make everything we do as open and transparent as we possibly can and as easy as is possible for district attorneys, victims, supporters, legislators and any interested citizen.”
He also said: “If there are ways we can and should do it better, we have proven repeatedly we are open to hear those suggestions and welcome those who constructively want the parole process in Oklahoma (to) operate at its best. It hasn't and won't take pressure or threat to make it happen.”
Dreyer called Prater “a man of integrity.” Ballard, though, said that Prater is going after the board members not because the prosecutor really thinks they broke the law but because he is anti-parole.
“That's what I feel,” Ballard said Friday.
Ballard said Christian compassion guides his votes on the parole board.
Prater on Wednesday declined to discuss his offer. He could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon or evening.
“The rules of professional conduct do not allow me to discuss proposed plea agreements,” Prater said Wednesday.
Prater also wanted the longtime executive director of the Pardon and Parole Board to step down. The executive director, Terry Jenks, already had been planning to retire.
The board's attorney, Martin, told Prater Friday that the executive director intends to retire in mid-February.
Jenks is a full-time state employee. The board members are not, although they often work hundreds of hours each month at home reviewing paperwork on inmates coming up for parole.
Meanwhile, the attorney general's office still is conducting a separate investigation of the parole board.
Attorney General Scott 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.”
Pruitt also said: “I think the district attorney has focused his efforts on criminal prosecution around the Open Meeting and Open Records law, but we've not qualified it that way. ... We're just engaging in an investigation and we'll see what it yields. We'll make an informed decision at the end of that process.”