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Oklahoma won't appeal initiative petition ruling

By Tim Talley/Associated Press Writer Modified: January 22, 2009 at 6:36 pm •  Published: January 22, 2009
Attorney General Drew Edmondson said Thursday he has decided not to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a federal appeals court that struck down an Oklahoma law barring nonresidents from circulating initiative petitions.

Edmondson also said his office dismissed criminal charges against three people accused of violating Oklahoma's out-of-state petitioner ban. All three were scheduled for a preliminary hearing in Oklahoma County on Feb. 6 but Edmondson said he was awaiting the outcome of the appeals process before deciding whether to proceed.

"The statute under which these defendants were charged has been declared unconstitutional, and the appellate process is complete," Edmondson said. "The statute is no longer enforceable."

Paul Jacob of Virginia, a national leader of the term limit movement, Susan Johnson of Michigan, head of a signature-gathering company, and Rick Carpenter of Tulsa, director of Oklahomans In Action, were accused of conspiracy to defraud the state by using out-of-state circulators to collect signatures for the so-called taxpayer bill of rights in 2006.

In a statement, Jacob said he believes the charges never should have been filed.

"We did not break the law and, as we all now know, the law itself is unconstitutional," he said. "Our prosecution has sadly had a chilling effect on Oklahomans, who want to reform their government and to hold it accountable through the petition process.

"My goal throughout this ordeal has been to encourage Oklahomans and Americans everywhere not to let their rights be eroded through fear and intimidation. Today we have won a victory," Jacob said.

Last month, a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled the nonresident petitioner law was unconstitutional and violated the First Amendment's free speech protections as well as the Fourteenth Amendment.

The decision overturned Senior U.S. District Judge Tim Leonard of Oklahoma City. Leonard had ruled that state officials presented "overwhelming evidence" that questioned the integrity of professional petition circulators and cited evidence of wrongdoing in other states by professional, paid circulators.

But the appellate court said the record did not support the district court's conclusion that nonresident circulators engage in fraudulent activity more than resident circulators and ruled the state failed to prove that its ban was narrowly tailored to protect the initiative process due to a higher rate of nonresident circulator fraud.

Oklahoma's law, similar to those in other states, was challenged by Yes on Term Limits, which wants to use nonresident, professional petition circulators to put an initiative on the ballot to enact two-term limits on the statewide offices of lieutenant governor, state auditor and inspector, attorney general, treasurer, labor commissioner and schools superintendent.

The group's attorneys alleged that the law barring nonresidents and other Oklahoma laws that limit the initiative process are among the most restrictive in the nation.

The statute, passed in 1969, required anyone who circulates a petition to be a qualified elector, meaning they must be a U.S.

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