NORMAN — A Cleveland County special judge is requiring offenders in aggravated drunken-driving cases to use a company that pays him and a business partner $2,321 per month in rent, The Oklahoman has learned.
“I have followed the rules,” Judge Steve Stice said Friday. “I have followed every rule that there is. I have disclosed everything to everyone. It's on my ethics reports. I'm not the only judge that owns real estate.”
Stice, 43, said he has been upfront about the lease of office space to Oklahoma Court Services Inc., a private company that supervises offenders on probation.
He said he disclosed the arrangement to his bosses, the elected district judges who hired him in 2010. He said he disclosed it also to Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn and to defense attorneys.
“It's all been out there,” he said.
Stice said he found a 2000 Oklahoma Judicial Ethics opinion that provides guidelines on how a judge can be a landlord at the same time. He said no one has asked him to recuse himself from a case because of these issues.
The Oklahoman learned of the lease arrangement from attorneys who are critical of it.
They declined to comment on the record.
The criticism comes at a time when the judge and district attorney are at odds over who should supervise offenders on probation for aggravated drunken driving.
Mashburn contends his own employees can provide the supervision in those misdemeanor cases.
Mashburn also said he also needs the $40 per month an offender pays for the supervision.
Mashburn said his office has lost about $100,000 in supervision fees since the judge started sending offenders in aggravated drunken-driving cases to the private company.
He said he worries about losing even more supervision fee money.
“I'd have to stop prosecution in lots of cases if I didn't have that money,” the district attorney said.
“Right now, it's aggravated DUIs. What is it tomorrow?”
The judge contends the key issue is public safety, and the private company provides the proper monitoring of the offenders that the law requires.
“I want them to have to see somebody at least once a month to determine whether or not this person is getting the counseling … taking drug tests … doing all the things that need to be done,” Stice said. “Because under the DA version, we wouldn't know until the end of the year.”
The judge estimated he only sent about 100 cases to Oklahoma Court Services out of the 6,000 to 8,000 cases he has handled so far.
Stice, a former criminal defense attorney, owns a third of ACS Enterprises LLC, which owns four buildings near the courthouse. His partner, Marty Coltrane, said the judge is a silent partner and the judge does not manage any of the buildings.
ACS Enterprises was formed years before Stice became a judge.
Oklahoma Court Services is a tenant in one of ACS Enterprises' buildings. Oklahoma Court Services owner, Julia Curry, said it pays $2,321 a month in rent.
Curry and Stice once were co-owners of a similar business, Cleveland County Pretrial Services LLC.
Because he was becoming a judge, Stice sold his half of Cleveland County Pretrial Services to Curry for $99,000, records show. “That was a no-brainer,” the judge said.
The judge is getting paid in installments of $1,650 a month for five years.
Cleveland County Pretrial Services also is a tenant of ACS Enterprises. Cleveland County Pretrial Services pays $1,148 per month in rent, Curry said. The county pays Cleveland County Pretrial Services up to $15,000 a month to operate, she said
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in October ruled against Mashburn in October when the prosecutor challenged the judge's use of a private company in aggravated drunken-driving cases.
Mashburn said he now is seeking a legislative solution — that would require a judge to have a prosecutor's consent to send an offender to a private supervision company.
He said prosecutors are telling legislators “please … let's fix this so that a judge just can't wake up one day and … say, ‘I've decided not to give you this class,' or wake up one day and say, ‘You know what, I've decided not to give you anything.'”
Mashburn said, “The worry is that you're going to have a judge hold some kind of appeal against you … and then his way to get you back is to go around you with supervision fees.”
Stice said he began sending aggravated drunken-driving cases to the private company only because the law changed in November 2010. He said legislators added new requirements for supervising offenders while on probation “that I know the DA doesn't do.”
“If I wanted to bankrupt the DA for some reason or I wanted to line Julia's pockets with a ton of money, I'd send everything” to the private company, Stice said.