Use of Oklahoma state email to support judges is questioned

The general counsel of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, who also is the husband of one of the state Supreme Court justices up for retention, says he didn't violate any law but would do things differently if he could do it over.
by Randy Ellis Published: October 9, 2012
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John Miley, general counsel of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission and husband of Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Noma Gurich, may have run afoul of a state ethics rule.

Miley says he doesn't believe he violated the anti-electioneering rule, but would do things differently if he had it to do over.

Miley used his state agency email account to send a message to dozens of state agency legal advisers, encouraging them to advocate for the retention of his wife and other state appellate judges in the November general election.

“Most voters turn to attorneys they know for guidance on how to vote in these areas,” Miley wrote in the Oct. 1 email. “Please spread the word to your family and friends that we need their vote for retention.”

The email was sent during normal working hours and some of the lawyers who received it have privately questioned whether it violates a state anti-electioneering rule that bans the use of public funds, property, time and personnel to influence elections.

Miley disagrees.

“This was a nonpartisan retention election, so it's not really an election at all,” said Miley, 53. “That ethics rule doesn't apply to this type of thing. … There is no opponent.

“Sure, had I had a chance to do it all over again, I would do it differently,” he said. “Whether it was legal or not, it's the perception and I would not want this agency or the state to have the perception that was going on. I certainly would not have done it in an election. I certainly would not do it for anything else.”

Miley didn't point out in his email that Gurich is his wife. He said most of the people he sent the email to knew that.

Miley said his wife didn't ask him to send the email.

“I was not requested by any of the judges or justices on the list,” he said. “She did not request me to do this. We did not talk about this.”

Gurich confirmed Tuesday that she was not consulted by her husband and said it would be inappropriate for her to comment on whether she thought the email was legal.

“I wasn't involved,” Gurich said. “He's a legal professional. He has to make his own decisions on things. I'm certainly aware of the ethical rules in terms of judicial ethics. … I pay direct and careful attention to all those rules.

“I just think that he cares deeply about me as any husband would probably care about their spouse,” she said.

Anti-electioneering ethics rule

The anti-electioneering ethics rule states: “A person shall not use or authorize the use of public funds, property, or time to produce, print, publish, broadcast, or otherwise disseminate material designed or timed to influence the results of an election for state office or a ballot measure, except political activities or statements inherent to or part of the function of a candidate or an elected officer or the performance of a state officer's or state employee's duties or as allowed by law, regardless of the lack of specific reference to the election.”

“I don't think it meets the definition of a ballot measure,” Miley said of retention ballot issues. “It's definitely not an election.”

“I don't think any laws were broken or any ethics laws were violated,” he said.

Rebecca Adams, general counsel of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, said by law she could “neither confirm nor deny” whether any complaint has been filed with the commission and it would be inappropriate for her to offer an opinion on whether Miley's email violated the rule.

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by Randy Ellis
Capitol Bureau Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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