The five members of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board saw the justice system Thursday from the other side — as criminal defendants.
In alphabetical order, they were fingerprinted and photographed at the Oklahoma County jail after turning themselves in Thursday. Four smiled for their jail photographs, commonly known as mug shots.
Later, at the Oklahoma County Courthouse, they took turns standing before a judge to get their next court date. They were told to return at 8 a.m. April 18.
“We only take a not guilty plea at this stage,” Special Judge Russell Hall said. “It's printed on the form.”
Each remains free on $5,000 bail while awaiting trial.
The five were charged Wednesday with misdemeanor violations of the state Open Meeting Act.
Charged with 10 misdemeanor counts are board Chairman Marc Dreyer, 66, and board members Currie Ballard, 54, Richard L. Dugger, 74, and Lynnell Harkins, 73.
Charged with nine misdemeanor counts is board member David E. Moore, 65.
“All of them are distressed, of course, but everyone believes they didn't violate the law,” said Dugger's attorney, John Coyle.
Still on the job
All plan to be present next week for March's regularly scheduled parole board meeting, the attorney said. Their paid positions are part-time.
“They're going to do what they've always done. It's their job,” Coyle said. “Every single one of them has worked very hard and conscientiously to help the state.”
The attorney described Dugger, a former district attorney, as being “sick about this.” Dugger's wife came with him to the jail and to court.
Ballard arrived first at the jail, with a friend from church. He waited about an hour until the others arrived, and they then all went through the booking process together.
“Prayer is in everything I do,” Ballard told The Oklahoman.
Coyle said the sheriff's employees at the jail were gracious and respectful during the booking process, which took less than an hour.
About the charges
District Attorney David Prater alleges in the charges that the board members illegally voted on inmates' requests for early release without proper public notice.
He specifically alleges they violated the law by describing hearings on such requests as a “docket modification” on their agendas.
He alleges four board members willfully violated the law 10 times after receiving training on the Open Meeting Act in April 2011. He alleges Moore willfully violated the law nine times.
The board acted in a way “designed to hide potentially unpopular actions … from the citizens it serves,” Prater said in a news release Wednesday.
Board members have said they did not act in secret and that a docket modification only determined if an inmate would be put on the docket for a future meeting.
Board officials said the name of any inmate who made it on to a future docket would appear on the board's website, and the public would be informed then.
Last Friday, the board's defense attorney, Mack Martin, said, “Could things have been done differently or better? Absolutely. And, in all honesty, changes have been made to improve notice to the public. On the other hand, was the law broken? Absolutely not.”
The maximum punishment for a violation of the Open Meeting Act is a year in the county jail and a $500 fine.
Ballard lives in Coyle, Dreyer lives in Broken Arrow, Dugger and Harkins live in Oklahoma City, and Moore lives in Edmond, prosecutors said.