An Oklahoma County judge threw out a legislator's lawsuit Friday that challenged $2 million of state funds going to a private group that puts on an annual junior livestock show in Oklahoma City.
District Judge Bryan Dixon issued a summary judgment in favor of the state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department and the Oklahoma Youth Expo. The judge in April dismissed several legislators and state officials, including Gov. Mary Fallin, from the case.
Friday's hearing took an unusual twist when Rep. Mike Reynolds, who filed the lawsuit, was caught recording the proceedings in Dixon's courtroom on his cellphone.
“I didn't try to do it surreptitiously,” said Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City. “Sometimes when you go to court it's kind of hard to hear what's going on. I tried to record it so I could go back and ask my attorney questions later about what was being said.”
Dixon waited until the hearing was over and then asked Reynolds to erase the recording from his phone.
Reynolds filed his taxpayer lawsuit in January. It sought more than $7 million in damages and alleges state funds were given to the youth expo in violation of the state's constitution and laws.
Reynolds filed his lawsuit in the name of the state, which would have received monetary damages had he prevailed.
“I'm reasonably confident we will appeal,” Reynolds said.
Expo attorney reacts
Jeff L. Todd, lead attorney for the Oklahoma Youth Expo, said Dixon's decision should end the matter.
“It should vindicate the OYE for all of the bad press that it's gotten lately,” Todd said.
“He ruled that the Department of Ag had the authority to enter into a contract with OYE and that it was clearly for a public purpose as it promoted agriculture and that the OYE provided a tremendous economic benefit to the state.”
Reynolds had alleged in the suit that state funding violates the Oklahoma Constitution's prohibition of gifts of public money.
He also claimed that the $2 million for the expo — which was part of a budget deal worked out in the closing days of the 2012 session by legislative leaders and Fallin — was not authorized by an appropriations bill.
Those allegations were dismissed in April.
‘Battle will go on'
Dixon ruled on the lawsuit's two remaining allegations that the contract between the Agriculture Department and the Oklahoma Youth Expo violated the state's central purchasing act and that the contract was illegal because the state did not receive anything of value in exchange for its money.
“The youth expo and others will claim today that they've had a victory,” Reynolds said.
“Well, they won in court, but it was sure a loss for the citizens of Oklahoma. This battle will go on. We don't give up easily.”