MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

November 2, 2013

Terrill's conviction sets off legislative soul-searching

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — For the second time in as many years, an Oklahoma jury has convicted a former state lawmaker of a crime arising from his alleged conduct while in office.

Last year, former state Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan was convicted on a federal bribery charge that accused him of taking $12,000 in exchange for his influence on legislation.

On Tuesday, former state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, was convicted of a state bribery charge that accused him of offering a state job to a legislative colleague in exchange for her promise not to seek re-election.

That colleague, former state Sen. Debbe Leftwich, is scheduled to go on trial next month.

Members of the state House and Senate are considering whether the way they conduct the people’s business and the multiple prosecutions will chill legislative debate and action.

“I think what it says to anybody is that transparency and playing by the rules is the first order of business,” said Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City. “Everything should be done within the letter of the law.

“There has been lots of discussion that this may or may not have a chilling effect. I don’t think that it will.”

Morrissette’s comments were echoed by other lawmakers who said the criminal cases involving their former colleagues should not affect their public responsibilities.

“I certainly don’t have those concerns,” said Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore. “I think that we’re doing our duty in serving our constituents. I have not heard anyone express concern about proposing legislation that might jeopardize them in some legal way.”

Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Dacoma, said the prosecutions are “a message to those who might operate on the margins.”

“We really need to be very serious about the way we conduct business at the Capitol,” Hickman said.

Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, said the allegations of official wrongdoing are also a warning to state lawmakers to do a better job of cleaning up their houses.

“The allegations that were made should be prosecuted,” Jolley said. “My only regrets would be when a prosecutor finds it and the body does not on its own.”

Evidence of wrongdoing against a lawmaker should be thoroughly investigated to determine whether the member should be removed and then referred for prosecution, he said.

A House committee was formed to investigate Terrill’s activities after the charges were filed. In 2011, the committee declined to take any action.

Morgan, D-Stillwater, was sentenced to five years’ probation after being convicted of taking a $12,000 bribe from an assisted-living center in exchange for attempting to influence legislation that would have eased regulations on the state’s nursing home industry. A jury acquitted him of related extortion and mail fraud counts and could not reach a verdict on other counts.

Morgan is appealing his conviction and maintains the money was actually payment of his legal fees.

Terrill allegedly offered to put Leftwich in an $80,000-a-year job at the medical examiner’s office if she would agree to not seek re-election in 2010 so a Republican colleague of Terrill’s could run for her open seat.

Terrill testified that he did not offer Leftwich a job and that she never asked him for one.

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