Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Randolph Dial Waives His Right to a Preliminary Hearing

Randolph Dial, a convicted killer who disappeared from a southwestern Oklahoma prison with the wife of an assistant warden nearly 11 years ago, waived his right to a preliminary hearing Monday on an escape charge.
Greer County Associate District Judge Mike Warren bound Mr. Dial over for trial on an amended charge of escaping from Department of Corrections custody and scheduled an Aug. 4 formal arraignment.
Mr. Dial was mostly silent, answering "Yes" when addressed by the judge until he was informed of the amended charge.
"I don't understand what the difference is between the two things," Mr. Dial said.
Prosecutors said that the amended charge includes new information about aliases Mr. Dial used while he was on the lam, but that the punishment range of two to seven years was the same as the original charge.
Clad in a blue inmate shirt and dark pants, Mr. Dial was escorted into the courthouse where Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers, sheriff's deputies, Mangum police officers and Department of Corrections officers lined the halls. A law enforcement officer sat behind him during the proceeding.
"Every time he comes back, it ties up a lot of resources," District Attorney John Wampler said.
Mr. Dial had been on the lam with Bobbi Parker, wife of former deputy warden Randy Parker, since Aug. 30, 1994, when FBI agents acting on a tip raided his home near Campti, Texas, on April 4 and arrested him. Mrs. Parker was found unharmed, working on a nearby chicken farm.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation continues to look at whether Mr. Dial abducted Mrs. Parker when he escaped from the Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite and kept her captive by threatening to harm her family, or if the 42-year-old mother of two willingly helped him escape and avoid arrest. Mr. Dial, 60, told authorities that he had taken her against her will. Mr. Dial, a sculptor and painter, was convicted of the 1981 murder of a karate instructor. Mrs. Parker has reunited with Mr. Parker and their daughters, who were 8 and 10 when she disappeared. Mr. Parker is now warden at the William S. Key Correctional Center at Fort Supply in Oklahoma.
See the orginal story from April 6, 2005.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Attorney General Sues Poultry Producers

Citing the protection of Oklahoma lakes and streams, drinking water and public health, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson announced his office has filed a lawsuit against several out-of-state poultry companies for polluting the waters of the state.
The complaint alleges violations of the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, state and federal nuisance laws, trespass and Oklahoma Environmental Quality and Agriculture Codes.
"It all comes down to pollution," Edmondson said. "Too much poultry waste is being dumped on the ground and it ends up in the water. That's against the law. The companies own the birds as well as the feed, medicines and other things they put in their birds. They should be responsible for managing the hundreds of thousands of tons of waste that comes out of their birds."
Edmondson said that the filing of the lawsuit does not mean he has given up on mediation or negotiation.
"The filing of the petition was necessary whether the end result came from an agreement or a trial. You must have a petition to have a court order.
"We will defer issuance of summons," Edmondson added, "for a brief period to see if continued talks have any promise for settlement."
Named in the complaint are Tyson Foods Inc., Tyson Poultry Inc., Tyson Chicken Inc., Cobb-Vantress Inc., Aviagen Inc., Cal-Maine Foods Inc., Cal-Maine Farms Inc., Cargill Inc., Cargill Turkey Production LLC, George's Inc., George's Farms Inc., Peterson Farms Inc., Simmons Foods Inc., and Willow Brook Foods Inc. These companies include some of the country's largest providers of chicken, turkey and eggs to consumers in the United States.
The lawsuit was filed in the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma on behalf of the State of Oklahoma, including the attorney general and Oklahoma Secretary of the Environment Miles Tolbert. The suit addresses pollution in the Illinois River watershed, which consists of more than one million acres of land in Arkansas and Oklahoma. The watershed includes the Illinois River, Baron Fork River, Caney Creek, Flint Creek, Lake Tenkiller and other minor tributaries.
The Oklahoma legislature has designated about 70 miles of the Illinois River, about 35 miles of the Baron Fork River and about 12 miles of Flint Creek as scenic river areas, and Lake Tenkiller is one of Oklahoma's most popular outdoor recreation areas.
"We are asking the court to force these companies to stop polluting and repair the damage they have already done," Edmondson said. "Clean water is our most important natural resource, not only for public water supply and recreation, but also for the future of agriculture, industry and tourism."
The lawsuit alleges runoff from the improper dumping and storage of poultry waste has caused and is causing the pollution of Oklahoma streams and lakes. In this watershed alone, the phosphorus from poultry waste is equivalent to the waste that would be generated by 10.7 million people, a population greater than the states of Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma combined.
"I understand that many hardworking Oklahomans are employed by this industry and that a viable industry is important to their future," Edmondson said. "I also understand that the poultry companies can conduct their business in compliance with the law and remain viable - if they choose to do so.
"One company alone, Tyson, announced it was spending $75 million over 12 months in an ad campaign. If they can afford that, they can afford to clean up their waste," Edmondson said.
The attorney general said the Illinois River watershed serves as the source of drinking water for 22 public water supplies in eastern Oklahoma.
"We're not only talking about phosphorus," Edmondson said. "This waste contains arsenic, zinc, hormones and microbial pathogens like e. coli and fecal coliform - not exactly things you want in your drinking water."
Edmondson, who has spent the last three years seeking a negotiated water quality agreement with the poultry companies, said his attempts to reach an agreement outside the courtroom have not yet been successful.
"It's been three years, but we still don't have an agreement," Edmondson said. "We still hope for a negotiated agreement, but while we sit and hope, the pollution is still occurring. Filing this suit puts us one step closer to finally resolving this issue."
The attorney general has never claimed that poultry waste is the only source of pollution, just the major one, and poultry waste is not the only pollutant on which Edmondson has focused. The attorney general assisted the secretary of environment and Oklahoma environmental agencies in finalizing an agreement with Arkansas in December of 2003 to address municipal waste discharges.
"I know there are other sources of pollution," Edmondson said. "But, the major source of pollution in the watershed is poultry litter. No matter how much the industry pays its public relations consultants to spin it, the truth is obvious. Chicken waste is the problem."
The attorney general said the state cannot allow its waterways to be used as a dump.
"The financial burden for disposing of the poultry industry's waste should not fall on the citizens of Oklahoma, nor should Oklahoma allow its scenic rivers and lakes to serve as the poultry industry's disposal facility," Edmondson said. "Until the poultry companies are forced to take responsibility for safe management of their waste, these practices will continue and the problems will remain."


Monday, June 13, 2005

More than Sixty Bills Signed by Governor Henry

Two key measures in the Legislature's $150 million tax reduction package were signed into law by Gov. Brad Henry Tuesday.
The measures were among more than 60 bills signed by Henry, including a measure that protects the personal information of victims of violent crime by ensuring it is not available to the public over the Internet.
The tax cut bills reduce Oklahoma's top marginal income tax rate from 6.65 percent to 6.25 percent and raise the standard deduction for taxpayers who do not itemize their deductions from $2,000 to $4,000 over the next two years.
A family of four with an income of $50,000 will save $225 under the two measures.
The income tax rate cut was one of the top goals of Republican Speaker Todd Hiett in his first year in the state House's top job. The cut will amount to about $108 million in the first full year of implementation.
"Permanent tax relief for hardworking Oklahomans is one of the most important policies in accelerating growth in Oklahoma," said Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Del City, chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.
The measure also eliminates the capital gains tax on Oklahoma-based property for corporations and reduces taxes for Oklahoma's disabled veterans.
The increase in the standard deduction was supported by Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Senate Democrats.
"Raising the standard deduction helps those Oklahomans who need it most, working families who will spend their tax savings back into the economy in Main Street shops across our state," said Gumm, D-Durant.
The measure also lowers income taxes paid by senior citizens by increasing from $7,500 to $10,000 the amount of retirement income exempted from state income taxes. Gumm said lowering income taxes for senior citizens will make the state a more attractive retirement destination.
As school children and educators looked on, Gov. Brad Henry also signed legislation Tuesday that will boost teacher pay and make instruction more rigorous.
The measures, among Henry's top goals for the 2005 Legislature, provide a much-needed pay raise for teachers and push students to take tougher courses to better prepare them for college and high-paying jobs, Henry said.

New Teen Driving Safety Measure

A new law about was signed by Governor Henry on Thursday and will go into effect in November. It requires young drivers to complete a six-month probationary period with multiple restrictions before they qualify for full driving privileges. The law will effect nearly 2,000 teens a year. The Department of Public Safety says the state issued ,1858 new licenses to 16 and 17 year-olds in 2004. The measure's author, Representative Danny Morgan of Prague, says it should cut fatalities and collisions among drivers younger than 18 by at least 15 percent. Morgan says the bill was prompted by repeated instances of young drivers being involved in car crashes.

Law Encourages Film Making in Oklahoma

New laws passed by the Legislature this year are expected to encourage Hollywood filmmakers to film more of their productions in Oklahoma.
Governor Henry has signed three bills that offer production companies rebates, sales tax exemptions and income tax breaks if they film in the state.
Chief among the measures is one that provides funding to the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program. It awards a 15 percent rebate to companies that film in Oklahoma. Oklahoma established the program in 2001 to compete with filmmaking in Canada.
Not everyone is happy about the incentives. Kevin Brodie, a producer in a Tulsa studio project, says caps should be lifted from the state's rebate program.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Governor Signs 249 Bills into Law

Governor Henry yesterday signed 249 bills into law, the last of the bills passed by the Legislature during the final week of the legislative session.Lawmakers passed 491 bills and resolutions during the session. The governor signed 479 into law, vetoed ten and used a line item veto to disapprove of portions of two other bills.
None of the vetoes were overridden by lawmakers.
Henry says the highlights of the session include tax cuts and rebates, pay raises for teachers, increasing academic standards and a $500 million bond program for higher education.
He also points to laws intended to help Oklahomans find cheaper prescription drugs, provide life insurance and tax cuts for National Guard members and workers' compensation reform that passed during a special session last week.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Julian Fite, Attorney for the Cherokee Nation, Dies at 60

Source: Native American Times by Sam Lewin

The lead attorney for the Cherokee Nation has died.

Julian Fite collapsed Thursday morning while attending the Sovereignty Symposium in Oklahoma City. He was transported to a nearby hospital but was pronounced dead an hour later. He was 60-years-old.

Fite had a long resume: He was executive director of the Northeastern State University Center for Tribal Studies, a former U.S. attorney and a former Muskogee County district attorney.

He was born in Muskogee, the Fite family home since his ancestors came to Oklahoma in the 1800s. According to his NSU biography, Fite was married, had two adult daughters and lived in Tahlequah. He graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1970 and for several years served in the U. S. Army Military Intelligence Branch.

“Julian Fite was a rare individual who was always cheerful and positive, a practical philosopher that always strove for what was good for the people,” stated Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith. “He was an accomplished lawyer and a dedicated servant and patriot of the Cherokee Nation, the State of Oklahoma, and the United States. He was one of the few truly wise men I have ever met. He reminded me of Will Rogers, another Cherokee who was a common man with uncommon wisdom.”

“On behalf of the NSU faculty and staff, I extend condolences to the family of Dr. Julian Fite,” said Northeastern State University (NSU) President Dr. Larry Williams. “As a professor, Julian was beloved by his students, and possessed outstanding ability in the classroom. He was a valued member of the NSU community, and we appreciated his work as legal counsel to the university. Julian served as an example to those who knew him, demonstrating that determination is the greater part of valor. He was a loyal and trusted friend, and he will be greatly missed.”

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Transgender Police Officer Having No Luck in Oklahoma Courts

A state court is turning down a request by an Oklahoma City police officer to have the gender on her Ohio birth certificate changed from male to female.
Paula Schonauer was born a male in Ohio. She had sex-changing surgery in 2002 in Oklahoma and her U. S. passport and Oklahoma driver's license shows her as female.
She asked the state Court of Civil Appeals to change her birth certificate, but the court says it has no authority to change an Ohio birth certificate.
Last year, Schonauer also filed a claim against the City of Oklahoma City for sexual harrassment and a separate claim against the OKC Police Department for Wrongful Termination. Both claims were dismiss for failure to issue summons within 90 days of filing the petition as required by Rule 9.a of the Rules for District Courts.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Legal Battle Over Big Buck

The sun was heading toward the horizon on the plains of southwestern Oklahoma when hunter Michael Crossland decided to see if any deer were lurking around a tree-lined creek bottom.
What the 25-year-old farmer and rancher didn't bargain for was a legal dispute over what is expected to be the largest whitetail deer ever killed in Oklahoma — a monster buck with a 31-point set of antlers worth thousands of dollars.
Crossland said that on Nov. 23 he was with the landowner's hired hand, who went to retrieve a four-wheeler and gave Crossland his rifle in case he spotted any big deer.
"I walked around the bend on the west side of the creek," Crossland said. "First I saw a doe, and then I saw the buck come around."
After quickly loading the rifle, Crossland lined up the large animal in his scope from about 70 yards away and dropped it with one shot.
"I didn't know he was that big until he fell," Crossland said. "He fell and he rolled his head, and that's when I said, 'Oh my gosh.'"
But as word quickly spread about the huge deer taken in Tillman County, problems started to mount for Crossland.
A misdemeanor charge of hunting without permission was filed against him at the request of landowner Ryan Hunt, 26. The antlers were seized by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. A July 1 court date was set, and Crossland said he intends to fight the charge.
If convicted, Crossland could face a fine of up to $200, 30 days in the county jail, or both. It would then be up to the court to decide who gets to keep the antlers. If found innocent, he would get them back.
"It's been a heck of a mess," Crossland said.
Crossland and Hunt have known each other for years and attended Grandfield High School together. Crossland said he considered Hunt a friend, but they haven't spoken since the deer was shot.
"I said 'hi' to him the other day in the co-op, but he ducked his head and wouldn't look at me," Crossland said.
Hunt wouldn't specifically say whether he and Crossland were friends or whether he gave Crossland permission to hunt on his land.
"I'll say that our family has a lot of land, and it's always been known that no one hunts on our property without permission," Hunt said. "It doesn't matter if it's fishing, turkey or a little bitty doe."
But Crossland said he's previously worked for the Hunt family and was told he could hunt on their property as long as he was with a member of the family or Greg Platner, the farmhand who was with Crossland on the day he took the deer.
Crossland said he doubts there would be any controversy at all if it was a doe or a small buck he had shot.
Platner called the landowner's family shortly after the deer was shot to pass the word about the big buck.
"The next thing I know, everybody's mad," Crossland said.
What's not in dispute is the size of the deer's antlers — possibly the largest ever taken in Oklahoma.
"They're big, they're real big," said Col. Larry Manering, chief of law enforcement for the wildlife department. "I don't know exactly how big, but it's a trophy in anybody's category."
Although the antlers have not officially been scored under a standardized system, Yukon taxidermist Gerald Hillman measured the horns and said he's confident it will be a new state record for non-typical antlers, which refers to a lack of symmetry on each side of the rack.
"I think it will wipe out the old record," Hillman said. "It's a very impressive rack."
Hillman estimated the antlers will score about 246 or 247 points. The current non-typical state record in Oklahoma is 240 3/8 from a whitetail taken in Hughes County in 2003.
According to the Boone & Crockett Club, a Montana-based club that maintains big game statistics, the world record for non-typical whitetail antlers is a 44-point rack from Missouri that scored 333 7/8.
Carl Eddy, the owner of Eddy's Northern Whitetails in Independence, Iowa, said the mounted head and horns of the deer shot by Crossland would likely be worth between $20,000 and $30,000.
But Crossland said he hasn't been offered a cent for the antlers, doesn't plan on selling them and just wants them back.
"I want to keep it," Crossland said. "That's a once-in-a-lifetime deal there.
Source: Associated Press available at ESPN Outdoors

Abortion Lawyers Appeal Federal Judge's Decision on Oklahoma's New Abortion Law

Yesterday, Nova Health asked Judge Cook to ban the law's enforcement until the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rules on its appeal of his earlier decision, or until the Oklahoma Supreme Court sets a time frame for handling parental notification waiver requests.

See the underlying story below