Friday, June 10, 2011

Does Debbe Leftwich's Fate Hang On A Definition?

Debbe Leftwich
Will the fate of Debbe Leftwich hang on the definition of  a word?

The former senator, facing a felony charge of receiving a thing of value to withdraw as a candidate for the Senate (which she adamantly denies), is entangled in a series of legal moves and counter-moves that appear to hinge on the definition of the word candidate.

Leftwich's high-profile case centers on the allegation that Rep. Randy Terrill, Moore Republican, orchestrated an appropriation to the Medical Examiner's office to provide funds to hire Leftwich if she withdrew from the Senate race to clear the way for Terrill confidant Rep. Mike Christian.

Terrill also faces charges in the case.

Robert G. McCampbell
Leftwich's attorney is Robert G. McCampbell of Crowe & Dunlevy.

In a Court of Criminal Appeals document filed in late April, McCampbell argued that the state's allegation against Leftwich fails "to state a crime."

But today, the Court of Criminal Appeals denied the appeal, saying the definition, and other legal issues, need to be heard at trial.

McCampbell based his argument on the definition of candidate under Oklahoma law, specifically a law passed in 1974. 

"Although Debbe Leftwich is charged under the Oklahoma Election Code, 26 O. S. 167-108, with receiving a thing of value to 'withdraw' as a 'candidate,' that section cannot possibly apply in this instance. First, because Debbe Leftwich never filed a Declaration of Candidacy with the Election Board...she was never a 'candidate' under the Oklahoma Election Code. Second, she could not and did not 'withdraw' by filing a Notice of Withdrawal as specified by...the Oklahoma Election Code. Most importantly, neither the Information nor the Affidavit even allege facts suggesting that she was a 'candidate' or that she 'withdrew' as those terms are used in the Oklahoma Election Code...."

McCampbell further explained that when the Oklahoma Election Code was passed in Senate Bill 415 in 1974 making it a crime to give a thing of value to a candidate to withdraw, another section of that same bill in 1974 specified that a person can become a candidate only by filing for office with the Election Board.  He argued that a court is obligated to give the word "candidate" the same meaning in all sections of that particular bill.

Another court document, filed by the prosecutors in February, addresses the definition of candidate.

"The Defendant begins her argument by limiting her analysis of Oklahoma Law to the Election Code (Title 26 O. S.). 'Candidate' is not defined therein. Therefore, she attempts to define the term buy only looking to other Statutes within Title 26 where 'candidate' is used. She relies heavily on the statutory provision which sets forth the mechanism in which candidate's name is placed on an election ballot. Therein, it states the only way to have your name appear on an election ballot is to file a Declaration of Candidacy form. By doing so, this is one way a person 'may' became a candidate for office..."

The document continues, "What the Defendant fails or refuses to acknowledge is this statutory provision is only one way a person may become a candidate for office under Oklahoma Law."

The document cites other ways, emphasizing that candidate can be defined as one who "solicits or accepts contributions, makes expenditures or gives consent to an individual, organization, party committee, or other committee to solicit or accept contributions or make expenditures to secure election to any state or local office at any time, whether or not the office for which the individual will seek nomination or election is known when the (1) solicitation is made, (2) contribution is accepted, or (3) expenditure is made."

The document notes that Leftwich "filed her statement of organization with the Oklahoma State Ethics Commission and was assigned 110003 as her Ethics Commission number. The name appearing as the Candidate in Box #1 of the State of Organization is: Leftwich, Deborah Ann. On January1, 2007, she reported transferring a balance of $34,730.69 from her 2006 campaign account to her 2010 campaign account. She received individual and committee contributions to her campaign beginning March 19, 2007. Leftwich began expending money from her 2010 campaign fund on January 2, 2007. Her ethics report filing on October 21, 2010, reports her most recent expenditure to have occurred on September 20, 2010. These candidacy activities are evidenced by required public filings with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission."

The document concludes that, "the evidence of the Defendant's public actions squarely place her within the statutory definitions of a 'candidate'...."

The Leftwich appeal, an "Application to assume original jurisdiction and petition for writ of prohibition and in the alternative petition of writ of mandamus," was filed with the Court of Criminal Appeals On April 26th.

The Court of Criminal Appeals response issued today means the definition will have to wait until Leftwich is tried.

Said McCampbell today: "We are of course disappointed with the ruling.  However, the effect of the ruling is merely that this case will proceed in District Court and those proceedings will show Senator Leftwich to be innocent of all charges."

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