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Sooner Tea Party leader's blackmail case moves forward

Jury trial for Sooner Tea Party co-founder Al Gerhart is set for Jan. 13. Gerhart is charged with blackmail.
by Nolan Clay Published: November 1, 2013

A judge Thursday refused to dismiss a blackmail case against Sooner Tea Party co-founder Al Gerhart.

The ruling clears the way for a jury trial in January.

Gerhart was charged over an email sent to a state senator in March. Gerhart has admitted sending the email in an effort to get legislation passed.

His defense attorneys asked for a dismissal of the case on free speech grounds. Oklahoma County District Judge Ray C. Elliott rejected the request, ruling the state's blackmail law was not unconstitutional.

Gerhart, 55, of Oklahoma City, is charged with two felonies in the case — blackmail and violating the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act.

Gerhart sent the email March 26 to Sen. Cliff Branan, R-Oklahoma City. He promised to make the senator a laughingstock unless the Senate Energy and Environment Committee passed a bill dealing with a United Nations plan.

Branan is chairman of the committee.

Misspelling one word, Gerhart wrote: “Branan, Get that bill heard or I will make sure you regret not doing it. I will make you the laughing stock of the Senate if I don't hear that this bill will be heard and passed. We will dig into your past, yoru family, your associates and once we start on you there will be no end to it. This is a promise.”

Under state law, blackmail can involve a communication intended “to compel another to do an act against his or her will.”

Gerhart's attorneys argued that part of the state's blackmail law is overbroad. They argued that, hypothetically, the way the law is written, a teacher could be charged with blackmail for verbally disciplining a child in a schoolyard.

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by Nolan Clay
Sr. Reporter
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,...
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