The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety is not following its own regulations in hearings to revoke the driver’s licenses of people arrested in drunken driving cases, several lawsuits filed by a former DPS attorney allege.
An Oklahoma County judge issued a temporary injunction last month preventing the department from taking action in five of the cases, records show.
All but one of the suits were filed in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties by former DPS attorney DeAnn Taylor. In the lawsuits, Taylor states that the department has refused to reschedule hearings when attorneys have conflicts and has failed to notify attorneys in a timely fashion when a hearing is rescheduled. The suits say those occurrences are in violation of state administrative law the department must follow.
Taylor worked as an attorney for the Department of Public Safety for about eight years, eventually becoming its deputy chief legal counsel.
She is now in private practice in Oklahoma City, representing motorists in license-revocation cases.
License revocations are administrative proceedings held by DPS if requested by a driver. The hearings are held in addition to proceedings in a criminal case filed when a person receives a DUI citation.
Drivers have 15 days to request the administrative hearing or risk losing their license for two or more years.
Taylor has filed at least at least seven lawsuits in three counties — Tulsa, Oklahoma and Logan counties — alleging that drivers are being deprived of due process in the revocation hearings, records show.
Lt. George Brown, a Department of Public Safety spokesman, declined to comment on the matter.
Oklahoma City attorney John Hunsucker said several of his clients have hired Taylor to represent them in the revocation hearings. Hunsucker said Taylor could not comment on the cases because she is a plaintiff in one of them.
‘Due process rights’
“They’ve been violating people’s due process rights for six or eight months now,” Hunsucker said of the Department of Public Safety. “It affects anybody driving in Oklahoma.”
Taylor, a sole practitioner, has been retained by Edge and Hunsucker to handle license revocation hearings.
Hunsucker said DPS scheduled hearings in several cases Taylor was handling at the same time and refused to reschedule them despite receiving a written request days in advance, as required by state law. Meanwhile, the agency rescheduled another hearing when a trooper serving as a witness said he was unprepared, Hunsucker said.
In exhibits attached to several of the lawsuits, DPS officials say they are not violating due process and that Taylor should find other attorneys to represent her clients if necessary.
Records show the department settled at least one of the lawsuits filed by Taylor in Tulsa County alleging lack of due process. In that case, the plaintiff hired Tulsa attorney Bruce Edge to represent her in criminal proceedings.
“When they (DPS) showed up for the (revocation) hearing, they didn’t even have a witness,” Edge said.
He said the department appears to have a six-month backlog of cases in which drivers have requested hearings to protest license revocations.
Edge said his family has been personally affected by a drunken driver and that he believes that the public should be protected from them.
However, he said the public is not served if untrained hearing officers hold hearings without the driver’s attorney present.
He said his clients have included a minister who took one Ambien (sleeping) pill and faces losing his license for two years and a 73-year-old woman with no prior criminal record.
“Do we want to take away people’s driving privileges entirely? If we make it so draconian to where people can’t drive at all (legally), … the public is put at more risk because they are not insured drivers. People are going to drive.”
Hunsucker and Edge said the issue may be an attempt by DPS to retaliate against Taylor for leaving to handle cases against her former employer. Other attorneys have experienced the same scheduling conflicts, but not as many because they handle fewer cases, both said.
In a lawsuit filed Dec. 7 in Oklahoma County District Court, Taylor states: “Under DPS’ policy, scheduling of hearing dates (is) at the sole discretion of DPS with no consideration for the dockets of the attorneys presenting licensees. This has only been the policy of DPS under new and current administration.”
State law regarding the hearings says: “If the date and time designated by the Department of Public Safety for the hearing is not suitable, the Legal Division must be notified immediately in writing upon receipt of the notice of hearing. Hearing will be rescheduled if the Department is informed of a conflict by noon on the day preceding the hearing.”
In another suit filed by Taylor in Tulsa County District Court, she states: “It is obvious from the communications attached to this petition that the Department of Public Safety has no respect or concern for the schedules of the licensees or their attorneys and sets cases for hearing at the convenience of the department.”
That lawsuit asked a judge to issue an injunction against DPS, preventing it from holding an administrative hearing to revoke the license of a 31-year-old Bethany man who was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.
Taylor wrote to DPS officials in September, informing them that she would be representing clients in the hearings and what dates she would be available.
In a response the next day, then-Deputy General Counsel John Lindsey states: “The department schedules, and will continue to schedule, administrative hearings at the convenience of the department. We will continue to try to accommodate each party involved in the hearings but cannot guarantee such accommodations can be granted.”
On Oct. 18, Taylor received notices of hearings from DPS with “approximately 46 known scheduling conflicts,” her lawsuit states. In a letter to DPS Commissioner Michael Thompson, Taylor asked for cooperation from the department in scheduling hearings, noting that “injunctive or other relief may be necessary.”
In a letter to Taylor dated Oct. 19, Thompson said: “Your threats of filing a lawsuit … demonstrates a very brazen approach that truly isn’t intended to reach an acceptable solution.”
Edge and Hunsucker said motorists are often confused when they are arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence because they are given a temporary license that is good for 30 days. However, the license-revocation hearing must be requested within 15 days, a fact buried in the “fine print” of the citation, Hunsucker said.
There are also different burdens of proof in the two cases, and DPS acts essentially as judge and jury in its own administrative hearings, the attorneys said.
“Several years ago, I got a not guilty from a jury but the client still lost his license. … The system is not fair across the board when it comes to the license,” Hunsucker said.
Implied consent hearings
State law contains this language regarding hearings drivers may request after receiving a citation for driving under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating substances: “Upon the written request of a person whose driving privilege has been revoked or denied by notice given in accordance with this section or Section 2-116 of this title, the Department shall grant the person an opportunity to be heard if the request is received by the Department within fifteen (15) days after the notice. The sworn report of the officer, together with the results of any test or tests, shall be deemed true, absent any facial deficiency, should the requesting person fail to appear at the scheduled hearing. A timely request shall stay the order of the Department until the disposition of the hearing unless the person is under cancellation, denial, suspension or revocation for some other reason. The Department may issue a temporary driving permit pending disposition of the hearing, if the person is otherwise eligible. If the hearing request is not timely filed, the revocation or denial shall be sustained.”
Source: State law of Oklahoma, Title 47, chapter 67, section 754.1