At issue is whether Rep. Mike Christian, 42, can be awarded workers' compensation for the hit-and-run collision. Most businesses do not consider commuting as time at work.
This is the third time Christian has filed such a claim. The other two involved injuries from traffic accidents while a trooper for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
Christian's vehicle struck a black truck about 8:30 a.m. Feb. 26, 2009, three miles south of the Capitol, a police report shows. He did not file the comp claim for more than a year.
Christian, a Republican, was a subject of a political corruption investigation in 2010 but he was not charged. He was first elected in 2008.
Christian contends he already was “on duty” at the time of the accident because he was driving from his “duty station” — his district in south Oklahoma City — to a committee meeting at the Capitol. He claims injuries to his neck and back.
“Under Oklahoma law, a legislator's duty station is his home district,” Christian told The Oklahoman in an email Thursday. “This law reflects the reality that most of the work we do is done in our district, even if the media typically focuses on our work at the Capitol.
“At any rate, like thousands of other Oklahoma employees (police, troopers, etc.) when I'm called away from my duty station for work purposes, I'm ... ‘on duty.' ... In this case, I was called away from my home station to attend a committee hearing at the Capitol when I was struck, and thus was on duty. There is nothing unusual about this.”
In support of his position, Christian pointed out that legislators are eligible for reimbursement for their mileage traveling to the Capitol.
On Friday morning, Christian accused House Speaker Kris Steele of interfering with his claim “to try to make sure that I will not be able to be fully compensated for the very expensive medical bills I will have to pay as a result of the wreck.”
Later Friday, 11 state representatives called for an internal ethics investigation of Christian's accusations.
Steele, R-Shawnee, called Christian's statements “defamatory, libelous and completely untrue.”
Steele said he will welcome any review “because it will show the House has done nothing wrong whatsoever.”
Christian made his accusations in an email to fellow House members.
“All of this appears to be an overt act of retaliation for the votes I've taken in my official capacity as the representative of the nearly 35,000 people of my district, as well as a recent high-profile vote taken in caucus,” Christian wrote. “The speaker's actions are a disgraceful abuse of power and are acts that are far below what is normally considered ‘fair play' in politics.”
His comp case is on hold because of a legal dispute over which judge will hear it.
Christian specifically alleges the speaker sent the state House's main attorney — its general counsel — to talk to judges in private about his case. He told The Oklahoman the House attorney also intervened in settlement negotiations and blocked a settlement of the case.
He also alleged House leadership gave The Oklahoman his confidential medical and legal files.
The Oklahoman was not given any confidential information involving his comp claim. Reporters did review public filings in his three comp court cases and a police report of the 2009 accident. The latest court file did not have any medical reports in it.
Steele said, “The claim has been handled no differently than any other workers' compensation claim. Everything has been handled properly and according to law. In this and all other claims, the House has been represented by counsel from CompSource.”
CompSource Oklahoma is the workers' comp insurance provider for the state House and other state entities.
Steele said: “The only involvement House staff has had in this case and all other cases comes at the request of CompSource. Claims that House staff acted inappropriately are totally false. House staff has acted appropriately at all times ... and it is a shame that they have been improperly maligned.”
Steele also denied that the House released information about the claim to the media. He said the House does not have any of Christian's medical records.
The speaker called Christian's accusations “just the latest in a continued series of disingenuous political attacks on the House.”
“We have work to do here and won't be deterred by false accusations and attacks,” the speaker said.
The presiding judge of the workers' compensation court, Michael J. Harkey, said Friday he never spoke to the House general counsel and he knows of no irregularities in assignment of the case.
Christian refused to talk directly with reporters for The Oklahoman but did respond Thursday and Friday by email to questions. “I would prefer to answer in writing so I don't make an inadvertent misstatement about the law,” he wrote.
About the 2009 accident, Christian told police he was driving with his wife in a Honda Civic when another vehicle made a U-turn in front of him. “He stated he was unable to stop and struck the vehicle,” police reported.
Police never made any arrests.
Christian wrote in an email Friday his medical treatment involves a series of shots directly into his spine. He wrote an operation is planned for later this year.
Christian also wrote he did not file a comp claim earlier “because I thought my injuries may heal on their own without the expensive operation.”
He wrote he hurts a great deal and “it will probably never be completely healed.”
An attorney hired by CompSource for Christian's case declined to comment. In July, though, the attorney, Kristi Bynum Russell, disputed that the injuries arose “out of or in the course of employment.” She also claimed Christian had a pre-existing disability to his back and neck.
Christian in 1998 was awarded $9,942 in workers' compensation for a permanent partial back injury suffered while a trooper, court records show.
Christian was hurt on April 2, 1996, when his patrol car was struck from behind during a traffic stop in Tulsa, records show.
Christian, in 2001, was awarded $15,000 in workers' compensation for permanent disabilities from a 1999 turnpike accident and from a 2000 arrest of a suspect, records show.
He also has been getting disability retirement payments since 2004 through the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Retirement System. He is paid half of what his average monthly salary was over his last 30 months as a trooper.
Christian contends the only question in his latest accident is which insurer pays for his medical cost.
“It can be paid by my state-provided health insurance, my uninsured motorist insurance or workers' comp insurance,” he wrote Thursday. “It's not particularly important to me which ... pays for my medical bills, and I'm not sure why it's important to you.”
Christian is represented in his newest case by Richard Bell, a politically connected workers' compensation attorney who was a key figure in a campaign corruption scandal in the 1990s involving then-Gov. David Walters. Bell, of Norman, did not return phone calls for comment.
in corruption case
State Rep. Mike Christian was one of three lawmakers who were the focus of a political corruption investigation in 2010.
That investigation eventually led to a bribery case against state Rep. Randy Terrill and former state Sen. Debbe Leftwich. Christian was not charged.
Christian testified for the prosecution in November at a preliminary hearing for Terrill and Leftwich. His testimony was not the result of any deal.
“He was a subject of the investigation,” Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said last week. “There wasn't enough evidence to charge him.”
Prosecutors allege Terrill, a Republican, offered Leftwich, a Democrat, an $80,000-a-year state job to not run for re-election.
Prosecutors allege Terrill acted to help his friend, Christian, who planned to run for Leftwich's Senate seat.
Christian abandoned his Senate campaign after coming under investigation. He then won re-election to the House.
Christian has said he had no reason to believe anyone was doing anything improper.
Terrill faces a felony count of offering a bribe to a candidate to withdraw. Leftwich faces a separate felony count of soliciting and/or accepting a bribe to withdraw. Both deny wrongdoing.
Prosecutors are seeking to add a conspiracy count to the case. That issue is now before the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. Oral arguments are set for July 26. The jury trial will not be set until the appeals court rules.