Jurors at the bribery trial for former state Rep. Randy Terrill are getting an unflattering view of goings-on at the Oklahoma Legislature.
Witness after witness has told jurors the last days of most legislative sessions are so busy that lawmakers don't have time to read all the bills before voting on them.
“Absolutely,” said former Gov. Brad Henry when asked if the last part of a session was pretty chaotic.
Jurors also have heard the Capitol described as being like a high school, full of rumors and factions. One lawmaker, state Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, said, like in school, there are “popular kids” and “nerds,” too.
Jurors heard that the Senate and House have a rivalry that can get so intense that senators wouldn't drink bottled waters brought over from the House.
“There is some animosity at times between the two houses,” state Rep. Marian Cooksey, R-Edmond, said.
Christian said: “I really don't like the Senate. I wanted to be one but I don't want to anymore.”
Jurors were told that Terrill, while still in the House, invited a state senator to fistfight in the Capitol rotunda.
Jurors were told that political action committees pay for private polls to decide which candidates have enough of a chance to warrant support and which have no chance at all. Sometimes, the private poll results are leaked to discourage a candidate from running.
Terrill, a Republican, is accused of offering an $80,000 a year state job in 2010 to then-Sen. Debbe Leftwich, a Democrat. Prosecutors allege he bribed her so she would not run for re-election in 2010.
They allege he acted in part so his friend, Christian, could win her seat.
Prosecutors put on 20 witnesses over four days in an effort to prove their largely circumstantial case against Terrill. The trial resumes Monday in Oklahoma County District Court.
The prosecution witnesses included a number of former and current state officials. The most prominent was Henry.
Terrill added the new position to a Senate bill to reform the medical examiner's office nine days before the end of the 2010 legislative session, according to the testimony. He twice pressured the chief administrative officer of that agency to hire Leftwich, according to testimony.
The new $80,000 a year position — a transition coordinator — never came into existence because Henry vetoed the reform bill. Henry said the bill was fatally flawed because of the provision creating the transition coordinator position.
Leftwich announced May 28, 2010, the last day of the session, that she would not run for re-election.
Terrill denies wrongdoing. His defense attorney has sought to emphasize the lack of direct evidence of a bribe. The attorney, Chris Eulberg, has asked almost every prosecution witness if he or she ever heard Terrill promise a job to Leftwich in return for her withdrawal of her candidacy.
Every witness he asked replied “no.”
Prosecutors have brought up the chaos at the Capitol because they allege Terrill was trying to take advantage of it and slip the provision creating the new job by his fellow lawmakers.
That provision was one of 27 in the 33-page reform bill.
“He almost got away with it, ladies and gentlemen,” prosecutor Jimmy Harmon said in opening statements. “He almost got away with it.”
One Democratic lawmaker, Al McAffrey, then a state representative, testified he was asked to sign off on the 2010 reform bill without reading it so it could go on to a final vote. He refused but enough others signed off on it that it moved forward anyway.
McAffrey, of Oklahoma City, is now in the Senate.
Christian compared the rumor spreading at the Capitol to that of both a high school and of a women's sewing circle.
During his testimony, Christian admitted he lied to Leftwich when she confronted him in March 2010. He said she asked him if he was going to run against her.
“I said, ‘I don't know what you're talking about,'” he testified. “We were trying to run a stealth campaign.”
Christian pulled out of the Senate race after an investigation was announced. He was re-elected to his House seat.
Prosecutors put on evidence that Leftwich was deceptive herself later in the 2010 session. They allege the testimony shows she kept from Senate leaders in her own party that she had decided not to run for re-election while working on a deal with Republican leaders to go to the medical examiner's office.
Former Sen. Charlie Laster, D-Shawnee, said party leaders need to know if an incumbent is not going to run as soon as possible so they can recruit a new candidate. He said Leftwich informed him of her intent to quit the first week in May 2010, about a month before the filing period.
“It was shocking,” he said. “It was an emergency.”
Jurors were told that the Senate was pretty evenly divided in 2010. Jurors learned that the Republicans had a slight majority in the Senate but Republican senators worried that one or more of their number would defect to the other party and put Democrats in control.
“We were constantly on ‘coup' watch,” state Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, testified.
Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, told jurors about Terrill inviting him to fight. He said Terrill was behind a robocall to his district, where voters were told to push “1” to call his office to complain.
“Very disruptive,” Anderson said.
Anderson said he forwarded all the incoming calls to Terrill's office. He said Terrill then invited him to a fight. That incident occurred in 2008.
Terrill, 44, of Moore, is charged with a felony — offering a bribe to a candidate to withdraw. He will testify in his own defense this week.
Leftwich, 62, of Oklahoma City, also is charged with a felony — soliciting and/or accepting the bribe to withdraw.
Her jury trial is set to begin Dec. 9. She, too, denies wrongdoing. She will not be testifying at Terrill's trial.
If convicted, each faces up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The negative side of the Legislature has been a recurring theme in the case.
In an affidavit filed with the charge in 2010, district attorney's investigator Gary Eastridge wrote that during the investigation, a lobbyist reported that “everyone” waits to insert special language into the bills until the last two weeks to prevent the language from being vetted out.
“He said: ‘We do it every session. That's just the way it is. You will destroy our way of life at the Capitol if the public learns of what it is really like in the last week,'” Eastridge reported.
At the end of a preliminary hearing in 2011, the special judge who heard the evidence against Terrill and Leftwich said he was reminded of the famous quote that “laws are like sausages, it's better not to see them being made.”
Then-Special Judge Stephen Alcorn said he was “disappointed in what repeatedly has been described as business as usual at the Capitol.”