Oklahoma County Commissioner Kevin Calvey had a bad day in District Court Monday when District Judge Cindy Truong ruled in favor of District Attorney David Prater’s motion.
The ruling affirms that the DA has the statutory right to intervene in a case Calvey is desperately trying to keep him out of.
It was the latest development in a long string of legal actions prompted by Calvey in an attempt to force the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust) to accept any level of intervention by ICE in the Oklahoma County Jail. And there are more court appearances to come.
Forcing compliance with ICE
The frantic legal twists and turns engineered by Calvey started when the Jail Trust – that Calvey is a member of – voted by a narrow margin to not honor ICE orders to hold certain detainees at the Jail when suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.
On a procedural technicality, that vote was vacated later in the day. But Calvey was alarmed enough at the near miss to attempt a way to stop any such action in the future.
Soon after, he introduced a measure in the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) that would force the Jail Trust to comply with all requests from ICE. It passed 2-1 with Commissioner Brian Maughan voting with Calvey and Commissioner Carrie Blumert voting against.
Blumert issued a letter later in the day asking DA Prater to issue a ruling on the legality of the BoCC action.
Calvey immediately rounded up a group of his political supporters in the County to join him in a lawsuit against the Jail Trust in District Court asking for a ruling that the BoCC can legally require the Jail Trust to allow ICE full access to the Jail.
Why? The DA’s office had already issued rulings earlier in the year questioning the legality of honoring ICE detainers. So, Calvey worked fast to head off any possibility, in this case by leap-frogging over the DA’s office and asking District Court to rule on the matter.
In response, Prater filed a Motion to Intervene of Right. The argument in the motion was,
“Only the District Attorney can represent Oklahoma County in litigation except for limited instances. In this case, the validity and enforcement of a ‘policy’ adopted by Oklahoma County has been submitted for judicial review by private parties and parties not authorized to do so by statute.”
Prater argued before Judge Truong Monday that a single commissioner cannot represent the Board of County Commissioners in court. Only the district attorney for the county can.
Also, he challenged Calvey’s original argument that since the BoCC had leased the Jail to the Jail Trust, the commissioners could make certain requirements like compliance with ICE.
“What the plaintiff wants is for the commissioners to tell the trust what to do,” argued Prater.
The whole purpose of a trust is to insulate the taxpayers of the county against certain legal actions and liabilities through it’s independence from the county, Prater argued.
Thus, if the BoCC is allowed to direct the Trust then the trust could be challenged in future lawsuits as a “sham trust” in order to hold the county responsible.
Calvey attempted to rebut Prater’s argument based on whether Oklahoma is a “sanctuary state or not.”
Prater responded in court that the “sanctuary state” argument was a “red herring” and that the issue being addressed was whether Calvey could represent the County in court.
Truong agreed with Prater’s argument and granted his motion.
Calvey’s request for stay
The other issue to be addressed in District Court Monday was Calvey’s request for a stay of his own lawsuit until April 15 to give the Oklahoma Legislature time to pass legislation about the matter.
But, because Prater had just then been granted the right to intervene in the case he asked for some time to prepare a response to Calvey’s stay petition. Judge Truong granted his request and set a date in January for that argument.
The attorney for the Jail Trust, Robert McCampbell, was present during the hearing. The Trust’s position through McCampbell is that the County Commissioners cannot direct the Trust on Jail policy.
And, a preview of McCampbell’s argument when in court next might be his written response to the stay earlier in November.
“The petitioners [Calvey and others] move to stay proceedings in this case because there might be legislation passed which might affect something of relevance to this case,” McCampbell wrote. “The motion should be denied.”
No comment from Calvey
We attempted to ask Calvey for a response after the hearing but he simply walked by quickly and on to the elevator.
Prater answers questions
Prater did talk with the press after the hearing and explained his involvement in the suit.
“We want to make sure that the county, and the citizens, are protected from any suits that might arise out of an adverse ruling in this lawsuit. And that’s the reason we’re here,” said Prater.
“It may seem to be an unusual position to actually, seemingly be opposing an individual county commissioner as he acts as a lawyer in another case,” Prater continued. “But our overarching interests are with the citizens of the State of Oklahoma in assuring that they’re protected from liability that might come from the suit.”
Prater expanded on his argument just delivered in court that a trust needs to be independent from the county commissioners not just in Oklahoma County but across the state.
“It allows certain safeguards and shields from liability,” Prater said. “It also allows the trust to operate without going through certain bidding processes and I mean there are a number of procedures and policies that a trust can operate under that a governmental entity cannot.”
Prater continued, “if this motion were to be granted, the problem would be that it would undo the protections that the Trust’s are in place for.”
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