Jurors at political bribery trial see negative side of Oklahoma Legislature

Jurors at the bribery trial for former state Rep. Randy Terrill are getting an unflattering view of goings-on at the Oklahoma Legislature. The trial for former Oklahoma Rep. Randy Terrill is set to resume at 9 a.m. Monday.
by Nolan Clay Published: October 27, 2013
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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.

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by Nolan Clay
Sr. Reporter
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,...
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