A lawsuit seeking to recover more than $2 million in state money provided to a privately run youth livestock show was dismissed after attorneys involved in the case failed to show up at a scheduling conference with the presiding judge last week.
Filed by Rep. Mike Reynolds, the lawsuit was set in motion after Reynolds tried unsuccessfully to get the money back through a formal demand letter, which was ignored, court records show.
The suit, filed in January, names a handful of elected officials, the state Agriculture Department and the Oklahoma Youth Expo — the private charity that runs the youth livestock show — as defendants.
Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, said the dismissal of his case will likely be a short-term obstacle in his fight to get the money “back to the state.”
“This looks like, basically, a paperwork snafu,” he said. “It looks a clerk in the judge's office didn't send out the notifications to the lawyers who were supposed to be there.”
According to an order of dismissal signed by District Judge Bryan Dixon, the case was dismissed because no attorneys showed up for a scheduling conference held Friday morning.
More than one of the attorneys involved, however, claim they never knew the meeting had been scheduled by the judge's office.
One of the lawyers, who didn't want his named used, said he wasn't even aware the case had been dismissed when he was contacted by phone Monday afternoon.
Kirby Smith, a spokeswoman for the state Agriculture Department, said she couldn't comment on the case because lawyers for the state agency had yet to receive a copy of the judge's order of dismissal.
One of the expo's attorneys, Jeff Todd, said his office also was in the dark about the scheduling conference held on Friday.
“It appears that in June, the court set a scheduling conference for July 5,” Todd wrote in an email.
“However, we have no record of receiving the notice of the scheduling conference and assume none of the other lawyers in the case did either, since apparently nobody showed up.”
The case, which had two motions for summary judgment pending at the time it was dismissed, can be refiled by Reynolds, court records show.
Attempts to reach Dixon for comment on this story were not successful.
Expo funding spiked in 2012
Over the past decade or so, the state Agriculture Department has been providing public funds each year to the Oklahoma Youth Expo, which is billed as the world's largest junior livestock show.
Students from across the state compete in the annual show, many of them walking away with hefty scholarships to Oklahoma universities.
Typically, the state agency would provide roughly $180,000 a year to the private charity.
The money was supposed to be used to help offset the expense of holding the show at the Oklahoma State Fair and to provide scholarships to show participants bound for Oklahoma colleges.
But in 2012, the expo's leaders told lawmakers they needed $2 million, far more than had ever been requested before.
The seven-digit request — and how it was ultimately arranged by lawmakers — raised some eyebrows at the Capitol.
Documents obtained by The Oklahoman in May revealed that expo leaders used the $2 million in public money for a variety of things.
Records show the Oklahoma State Fair, which hosts the expo's annual youth livestock show, received more than half a million dollars of the special appropriation.
Expo leadership directed payments of $192,325 to the state fair to settle debts from the 2012 junior livestock show and to make a deposit for the 2013 show, held in March.
More than $350,000 was paid to the fair for expenses related to the 2013 livestock show and to secure the annual shows through 2016, according to the documents.
Nearly $182,000 was used to pay the charity's employees.
The remaining million dollars was slotted to help stabilize the expo's scholarship program, which now has seven-digit obligations.
Reynolds, who filed a separate lawsuit questioning the legality of making such an appropriation to a private charity in September 2012, said Monday afternoon that he will continue his fight to recover the $2.3 million funneled to the expo from the state Agriculture between 2010 and 2012.
“Nothing has changed on that,” he said. “I anticipate that order being vacated soon and moving forward from there.”