A judge Friday ruled prosecutors have sufficient evidence against state Rep. Randy Terrill and former Sen. Debbe Leftwich for a bribery trial.
“Unseemly actions and even unethical behavior doesn't necessarily constitute a criminal act,” Oklahoma County Special Judge Stephen Alcorn said during his ruling. “However, when the evidence is looked at as a whole in this matter, in its entirety, it is clear this exceeds business as usual.”
Terrill and Leftwich have not formally been ordered to face trial yet. The judge held off on that step because prosecutors may appeal part of his ruling.
Prosecutors had asked him to add a conspiracy count to the felony case, and he refused. Prosecutors said they likely will appeal that refusal to a district judge.
Terrill and Leftwich were told to return to court Dec. 2.
Both deny doing anything wrong. The maximum punishment for a conviction on the bribery charge is two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Their defense attorneys predicted they will be acquitted at trial.
“Jurors almost inevitably make the right decision, using common sense and the instructions,” said Terrill's attorney, Stephen Jones. “Jurors have the unique ability to find out where the beef is and to separate an honest criminal prosecution from a continuation of politics under another name. … I think the weakness of the prosecution's case is evident from the witnesses and the testimony.”
The ruling on the evidence in the largely circumstantial case came on the fourth day of a preliminary hearing.
The judge said he was reminded during the hearing of the famous quote that laws are like sausages, it's better not to see them being made.
“Judges tend to be a bit cynical and tend to be realistic, but the court admits to being disappointed in what has repeatedly been described as business as usual at the Capitol,” Alcorn said.
Terrill, 42, of Moore, and Leftwich, 60, of Oklahoma City, had no visible reactions in court as the judge announced his ruling.
Prosecutors allege Terrill, a Republican, offered Leftwich, a Democrat, a bribe — a new $80,000-a-year job at the medical examiner's office.
Prosecutors allege he wanted her to drop her 2010 re-election effort so one of his Republican friends could win her Senate seat.
Leftwich is charged with soliciting and/or accepting a bribe to withdraw as a candidate.
During the hearing, the judge heard testimony that Terrill was the legislator who added the new job — a transition coordinator — to a bill to reform the medical examiner's office. The judge also heard testimony Terrill pressured the chief administrative officer at the medical examiner's office to hire Leftwich.
Legislators are prohibited by the state constitution from taking state jobs paid from state appropriations until after they have been out of office for two years.
Prosecutors allege Terrill sought to get around the prohibition by arranging for the transition coordinator job to be paid for from state fees on cash wire transfers. The three-year position was to have overseen a relocation of the medical examiner's office.
Defense attorneys Friday asked the judge to throw out the case on several grounds.
Their chief argument is that, legally, Leftwich never filed for re-election with the state Election Board. The attorneys contend that means she was not a candidate and could not be bribed to withdraw from the race.
Prosecutors contend she became a candidate under another part of the law when she began raising money in 2007 for a 2010 campaign. They contend she withdrew from the race when she sent out a statement on the last day of the 2010 legislative session that she was not running after all.
Leftwich did not get the transition coordinator job. Gov. Brad Henry vetoed the reform bill in June 2010 after District Attorney David Prater announced an investigation into how the job was created.
Terrill had subpoenaed the former governor to testify at the hearing but did not end up using Henry as a witness.