The five current members of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board were accused Wednesday in misdemeanor charges of illegally voting on inmates' requests for early release without proper public notice.
The board acted in a way “designed to hide potentially unpopular actions … from the citizens it serves,” Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said in a news release after filing the charges.
Board members Wednesday again denied wrongdoing.
“These hardworking public servants don't deserve what has occurred,” said the board's defense attorney, Mack Martin.
Gov. Mary Fallin quickly criticized the prosecutor's decision and said she supported the board members. She said the filing of the charges will have a chilling effect on state government.
“As governor, I have appointed approximately 900 men and women to agencies, boards and commissions. In 2013, I will be appointing hundreds more,” she said.
“It is difficult to imagine men and women who are leaders in their communities wishing to serve in these positions — the vast majority of which draw no salary — if they are constantly in fear of being charged with a crime while making a good-faith effort to follow the law and the recommendations of their paid legal advisers.”
Open Meeting Act
All five board members are charged with misdemeanor violations of the Open Meeting Act. They are expected to surrender to the jail Thursday morning.
Parole board members for years have taken their first votes on early release requests during a part of their meetings described on agendas as docket modifications.
Prater specifically alleges in the criminal charges that board members willfully violated the Open Meeting Act by doing so. He alleges they cast votes on a convicted drug dealer, a killer and other inmates “knowing that those matters were not listed on the board's published agenda for that meeting day.”
“The board was making crucial public safety decisions without giving the citizens of Oklahoma an opportunity to scrutinize its activity,” Prater said in his news release. “In so doing, the board potentially … re-victimized numerous victims and surviving family members by not giving them notice.”
Charged with 10 misdemeanor counts are board Chairman Marc Dreyer and board members Currie Ballard, Richard Dugger and Lynnell Harkins.
Charged with nine misdemeanor counts is board member David Moore.
The prosecutor only charged the board members for every month they voted on early release requests after April 2011 when they received training on the Open Meeting Act. He said he chose to limit the cases that way “out of an abundance of fairness.
Moore was not present during one of the votes
During the training session at the April 2011 meeting, Gay Tudor, then an assistant attorney general, told the parole board the agenda is “a really big thing.”
She cautioned board members that their agendas needed to be specific enough that people have an idea what will be discussed at their meetings. She explained to the parole board that the Open Meeting Act can be willfully violated “if you knew or should have known and you didn't do it right.”