A law that took effect last year should be thrown out because it makes it harder for people to file a taxpayer demand against a state, city, county or school district official, an Oklahoma City attorney said Monday.
Jerry Fent filed an appeal Monday with the Oklahoma Supreme Court, a week after Oklahoma County District Judge Bill Graves threw out his lawsuit challenging the law.
Fent is asking the high court to retain jurisdiction instead of assigning the appeal to the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals.
Fent said the law is unconstitutional because it increases the number of people needed to file the legal action.
A taxpayer demand targets alleged misuse of tax dollars by state and local public officials.
The so-called “qui tam” action, seldom used, is filed after it has been alleged an official made improper financial dealings and the official denied the accusation and refused to recover any illegally paid funds.
Action two years ago
Fent asked the state Supreme Court two years ago to take up his concerns about the law, but the high court refused to take jurisdiction and said the matter should first be brought up in district court.
Fent is asking that the law be declared unconstitutional and that the previous qui tam law be restored.
State law previously required signatures of 10 resident taxpayers before the legal action could be filed.
The new law requires at least 100 registered voters to sign before the action is filed.
Fent said the new law violates taxpayers' constitutional rights.
All voters are taxpayers because they pay state sales taxes on any food they buy, but all taxpayers are not voters because many do not want to register to vote for numerous reasons.
As a result, some taxpayers will never be able to file a demand because they are not also voters, he said.
Fent said the measure also violates a previous state Supreme Court ruling that supports open access to the courts.
It will cost the petitioner money to pay for an attorney and other costs to make sure the 100 signing the petition are registered voters, which has to be done before the legal action even is filed, he said.
The Supreme Court, in striking down a law that required attorneys to find a medical expert to approve a medical malpractice lawsuit, has said legislation cannot deny equal protection to residents by closing the courthouse doors to those financially incapable of paying those costs.