Oklahoma 3

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Paul Jacob at his second arraignment for the Oklahoma trial

The Oklahoma 3 are national term limits leader Paul Jacob, Susan Elizabeth Johnson of Michigan (president of National Voter Outreach), and Richard Merrill Carpenter of Tulsa (head of Oklahomans In Action).

The Oklahoma 3 were indicted by Drew Edmondson, the Oklahoma Attorney General, in 2007 based on allegations of felony misconduct stemming from a 2005 petition drive for the Oklahoma TABOR initiative, which would have placed a Taxpayer Bill of Rights initiative on Oklahoma's November 2006 general election ballot.

The Oklahoma 3 each face up to ten years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

The multicounty grand jury indictment[1] was unsealed on Tuesday, October 2, 2007. The defendants were taken out of court shackled to each other with handcuffs and leg-irons, and released later in the day. Paul Jacob was widely quoted as saying that the charges "will not stand."[2]

Federal court strikes down residency law

The federal 10th Circuit struck down Oklahoma's residency law 3-0 in early December, 2008, in Yes on Term Limits v. Savage (YOTL). This was the third time in 2008 that a federal court struck down residency laws as unconstitutional.

The decision in YOTL is seen as undercutting Edmondson's rationale for criminally prosecuting the Oklahoma 3.[3]

Edmondson has said that he plans to appeal the decision in YOTL to either the full 10th circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court. His office says that they plan to continue their prosecution of Paul Jacob, Susan Johnson and Rick Carpenter. Earlier in 2008, Edmondson told Oklahoma City's Journal Record, "If the courts determine that the state's process violates the First Amendment, so be it. Until that time, our law will be enforced."[4][3]

The recent 9th Circuit decision, Nader v. Brewer, has already been appealed.[5]

The charges

Jacob, Johnson, and Carpenter were indicted on felony charges of "conspiracy to defraud the state." Carpenter was charged with a second felony, that of violating the state's petition act. According to an Associated Press report, "The indictment accuses the three of 'willfully, corruptly, deceitfully, fraudulently and feloniously' conspiring with each other to defraud the state through the collection of signatures on the TABOR petition."[6]

The Oklahoma 3 each face up to ten years in prison and a $25,000 fine. Defense efforts immediately went into action, primarily through the FreePaulJacob.com web site.

"I did nothing wrong, unless trying to help Oklahoma citizens place a measure on the ballot for a vote of the people has now become a crime," Jacob remarked. "After celebrating so many victories in the long, tough struggle for civil rights, it is shameful that Oklahoma authorities seem determined to harass those of us they deem 'outside agitators.'"[7]

The three are accused of violating Oklahoma's requirement that petition circulators be state residents. Jacob and the others say they did their best to understand and comply with the law, and that they were advised by state officials that circulators could move to the state and simply declare residency.

Oklahoma's residency requirement is being challenged in federal appeals court by a newly formed initiative committee, Yes on Term Limits, which seeks to limit terms of statewide elected officials. In a ruling last fall, Judge Timothy Leonard upheld the residency law regarding initiative petitions, but the case has been appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

Indictment dismissed, re-filed

In mid-November 2007, the multi-county grand jury indictment against Jacob, Johnson, and Carpenter was dismissed, apparently because of flaws in its composition. Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson reissued the indictment in December 2007. The Oklahoma 3 are scheduled to be re-arraigned on January 28, 2008.[8][9]

Defenders compare prosecution to Pakistan, North Korea

Attorney General Drew Edmondson has been accused of launching a "politically-motivated" prosecution by several state legislators, numerous political commentators, and others watching the case. Edmondson denies such charges.

  • The Wall Street Journal wrote a sympathetic editorial in its November 19 issue, which began:
A veteran political activist is facing 10 years in prison and a hefty fine for attempting to petition government for redress of grievances. The latest news from Pakistan? No, this is happening in Oklahoma.[10]
  • Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief at Forbes magazine, wrote a hard-hitting editorial in Forbes' November 26 issue, entitled "Has North Korea Annexed Oklahoma?" The editorial concludes with this paragraph:
The Oklahoma case stands out as an extreme move to restrict the behavior of political activists. But unless this thuggish behavior is firmly punished, other states and municipalities will quickly follow suit. After all, many local pols and their developer friends have been making ample use of the Supreme Court’s hideous decision two years ago that allows local authorities to seize private property to help politically connected private developers. Jacob has worked with Oklahomans pushing an initiative that would bar this type of eminent domain abuse, as well as a state term limits initiative. Now he is accused of committing a felony.[11]

On February 21, 2008, on a visit to Oklahoma, Forbes again expressed his perspective on the indictments, using the word "astonishing."[12]

  • Oklahoma State Senator Randy Brogdon has issued several strong statements condemning the prosecution of The Oklahoma 3:
Everyone should be deeply concerned about this. The Constitutional rights of every citizen of Oklahoma are in jeopardy as well as the liberty of three good people who face ten years in prison. If this shameful political assault succeeds, everyone is at risk. It is an outrage! ...It appears Drew Edmondson is more concerned with protecting his own political power than he is with preserving, protecting, and defending the right of Oklahomans to free speech. This is nothing less than an attack on our Republican form of government.[13]
  • The Oklahoma Gamefowl Breeders Association has also lined up against the Oklahoma Attorney General's action in this case. While opposing a 2002 initiative to ban cockfighting, the OGBA found much evidence that out-of-state petitioners were being used in support of the initiative, a charge they brought to the attention of AG Edmondson and were told that it was perfectly legal for individuals to come into Oklahoma from out of state, declare residency, and circulate petitions. The OGBA issued a statement wondering why that same attorney general has filed felony charges against the Oklahoma 3 for doing the same thing:
It was as if the same law that put three people under arrest this month, in leg chains, did not apply to the exact same thing done during the signature gathering of the cockfighting petition. We now ask, is it law or politics?[14]
  • The Muskogee Phoenix, an Oklahoma paper, editorialized against the indictment in January 2008. Referring to Drew Edmondson, they wrote:
His persecution of the initiative leaders is a blow to the democratic rights of Oklahoma citizens. It serves only to frighten and intimidate voters from exercising their constitutional rights to participate in the initiative process.[15]

Law Struck Down and Charges Dropped

On December 18th, 2008 the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the underlying Oklahoma law that barred out of state petition circulators, noting that it was in violation of the First Amendment .[16]. Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson appealed the decision on behalf of Secretary of State Susan Savage. On January 21, 2009 the Tenth Circuit court denied the state's appeal, effectively ending the case.[17]. The Attorney General's office dismissed the charges against Jacob and the other defendants, with Edmondson saying "The statute under which these defendants were charged has been declared unconstitutional, and the appellate process is complete...The statute is no longer enforceable."[18] on January 22, 2009. Jacob released the following statement in response to the charges being dropped:[19]

"Today is a great day for justice, for freedom of speech and the right to petition one’s government. It is a great day for Rick Carpenter, Susan Johnson, and me—now known as the Oklahoma Three.

The charges brought against us by the attorney general have now been dismissed. They should never have been brought in the first place. We did not break the law and, as we all now know, the law itself is unconstitutional.

Our prosecution has sadly had a chilling effect on Oklahomans, who want to reform their government and to hold it accountable through the petition process. My goal throughout this ordeal has been to encourage Oklahomans and Americans everywhere not to let their rights be eroded through fear and intimidation. Today we have won a victory.

But the battle to protect citizen rights is far from over."

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Additional reading