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DA Candidate Matt Ballard calls Oklahoma Supreme Court “Activist Judges”

DA Candidate Matt Ballard calls the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals and the Oklahoma Supreme Court “activist judges” for their decisions in Ward & Lee, PLC v. City of Claremore, 2014 OK CIV APP 1.

Note: This is part #1 of a muti-part blog post series on the four Ward Lee & Coats cases that were discussed in the recent District Attorney debate for Rogers, Craig, and Mayes counties. One of the cases discussed was the City of Claremore being sued by our law firm for violating the Oklahoma Open Records Act.

In 2011, our law firm made an Open Records request for audio and video recordings of an arrest made by the Claremore Police Department. The Oklahoma Open Records Act provides that all “facts concerning the arrest” of an individual are subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act. City of Claremore Police Chief Stan Brown and City Attorney Matt Ballard took a stand and refused to turn the records over when our firm requested them.

So we sued the City of Claremore for this violation. Rogers County Associate District Judge Sheila Condren ruled in favor of the City of Claremore and against government transparency. Strongly believing in our case, we did not hesitate in appealing the case. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals reversed Judge Condren’s decision and found that police dash cam recordings are in fact subject to the Oklahoma Open Records Act.

[titled_box title=”From the Tulsa World” variation=”slategrey”]After hearing evidence in the nonjury trial, Associate District Judge Sheila Condren ruled in August 2011 that the police department’s dash-cam recording is a “direct piece of evidence” and “not a public record.” In an opinion written by Chief Judge Robert Bell, the state Court of Civil Appeals disagreed. “Appellees’ argument — and the trial court’s holding — that the video is exempt because it could be used as evidence in a subsequent criminal prosecution is without legal support,” Bell wrote. “There is no such exemption enumerated in the (Open Records) Act.”[/titled_box]

Matt Ballard, Chief Stan Brown, and the City of Claremore decided to take this case to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. They petitioned the Oklahoma Supreme Court to grant certiorari and reverse the case. By  a vote of 9 to 0, the Supreme Court refused to take up the case, leaving in place the Court of Civil Appeals decision.

Recently, when confronted with this topic in his political debate, DA candidate Matt Ballard claimed his position to be a “conservative principled position” and that the City of Claremore lost because of “activist judges” in the appellate courts.

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First of all, Mr. Ballard is mistaken in his belief that government secrecy is a “conservative principled position.” It’s not.

Second of all, this was not judicial activism. Judicial Activism is generally a derogatory term used to describe judges and justices who do not follow the law but instead issue rulings based on personal and political goals. One can imagine that this is an offensive term to use against a judge. It is shocking that a candidate for a position like District Attorney would call all 9 of the Oklahoma Supreme Court Justices and 2 Judges of the Court of Civil Appeals “activist judges.”

Third, thank you Mr. Ballard for letting us know that supporting government secrecy is some of the so-called “conservative principles” we can expect out of you if elected DA.

Fourth, Mr. Ballard seems to believe being a defense attorney is a bad thing. I guess he forgot he has been one of these awful people himself. A quick search of the Oklahoma State Courts Network shows that Mr. Ballard has represented numerous people charged with felonies such as drug trafficking, kidnapping, possession of controlled substances, feloniously pointing a firearm, assault and battery on a police officer, and domestic assault and battery by strangulation. He must have forgotten that fact when he was attacking our firm for defending these “criminals.”