OKLAHOMA CITY — A judge on Friday ordered two former Oklahoma lawmakers to stand trial on charges alleging that one offered to set the other up with a job in exchange for promising not to seek re-election.
Oklahoma County Special Judge Stephen Alcorn entered not guilty pleas for former Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, and former Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, and scheduled a March 20 date for them to appear before District Judge Glenn Jones. They remain free on their own recognizance.
Alcorn ruled in 2011 that the state had enough evidence to try the two for bribery, but not conspiracy. Prosecutors appealed Alcorn’s ruling on the conspiracy charge, and on Wednesday the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Alcorn’s decision.
“We are fully confident that we will also win at the district court on the substantive count,” Leftwich’s attorney, Robert McCampbell, said after Friday’s hearing, referring to the bribery charge.
Terrill is charged with offering a bribe and Leftwich is charged with soliciting or accepting a bribe. Prosecutors contend that Terrill offered Leftwich an $80,000-a-year job at the Office of the State Medical Examiner in exchange for Leftwich’s promise not to seek re-election in 2010. They allege that Terrill wanted the Senate seat to go to a Republican colleague, Rep. Mike Christian, of Oklahoma City.
At the time, Terrill was chairman of a House budget subcommittee responsible for the budget of the medical examiner’s office. Officials at the agency testified during a preliminary hearing that they felt pressured to hire Leftwich even though they felt she wasn’t qualified.
Christian campaigned for the Senate seat but pulled out of the race when the investigation was announced. He was not charged and was re-elected to his House seat.
Prosecutors allege that Terrill and Leftwich also conspired together in the bribery scheme. But defense attorneys invoked a legal guideline known as Wharton’s rule to argue against the conspiracy charge. The guideline prohibits the prosecution of just two people for conspiracy to commit an offense if it takes at least two people to commit the offense.
Defense attorneys have said Terrill didn’t have the authority to promise Leftwich a job, and that Leftwich wasn’t technically a candidate for re-election because she never filed the required paperwork with the state Election Board. Terrill left the Legislature last year.
Prosecutors presented evidence that Leftwich had raised and spent campaign funds in the months and years prior to the 2010 election and announced her withdrawal from the race only after a bill creating the job at the medical examiner’s office was passed at the end of the 2010 legislative session.
Defense attorneys have said the actions of Terrill and Leftwich were constitutionally protected because they were acting in their official capacity as legislators. But prosecutors claim many conversations involving the alleged plot occurred outside the lawmakers’ official duties.
Terrill and Leftwich deny the bribery allegations. Bribery is punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.