Curtis DeLapp, a former district judge who resigned in 2018 amid allegations he ordered people to jail without trial for minor courtroom disruptions, has filed paperwork to run for District Attorney in Washington and Nowata counties.
DeLapp, who previously worked as an assistant district attorney in Washington and Nowata counties in the 1990s, has registered with the Oklahoma State Ethics Commission to accept donations as he seeks office.
The election will take place in 2022, the Oklahoma Election Board said. DeLapp won’t be able to file his candidacy paperwork until April 2022.
DeLapp did not respond to requests for comment from The Frontier.
DeLapp is seeking to replace outgoing District Attorney Kevin Buchanan, who has served in the role since 2011. Buchanan told The Frontier in an email that he is retiring and is supporting his current first assistant’s bid to become district attorney.
“It has been no secret that I intended to retire at the end of this term,” Buchanan said. “My (first) assistant, Will Drake, will be running and will have my full support.”
DeLapp resigned in 2018 in the middle of a re-election bid as district judge. After The Frontier wrote about DeLapp’s alleged abuses of power, including jailing a woman for talking in his courtroom. Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Douglas Combs said in a 2018 order that DeLapp had issued more than 200 direct contempt citations ordering jail time between 2016 and 2018.
A “direct contempt” citation is a rarely used and severe punishment under Oklahoma law — though the maximum sentence for direct contempt is six months in jail, the defendant does not get an attorney, a hearing, or bond, and must spend the entire sentence in jail.
Combs wrote that DeLapp’s “use and application of direct contempt ignored each individual’s due process rights.”
“The routine denial of individuals’ access to justice constitutes oppression in office.” he wrote.
In Nov. 2017, DeLapp ordered a 19-year-old woman named Randa Ludlow to jail after she twice talked in court to another spectator. Records show DeLapp ordered her on the spot to spend 30 days in jail, but when Ludlow “blurted out that it hurt” to be handcuffed, DeLapp increased her jail time to six months.
Days later, DeLapp let Ludlow out of jail, fined her $500 and ordered her back to court on Dec. 12 and Jan. 9. During the January 2018 hearing DeLapp “noted that (Ludlow) had new charges (speeding and driving under suspension)” and ordered her back to jail to serve “the remaining five months and 27 days.”
Ludlow’s sentence was designated in court records as “flat time,” meaning she couldn’t earn time off her sentence with good behavior.
Combs said in his 2018 order that DeLapp had not filed “contempt court minutes” as required by law when the judge ordered Ludlow to be jailed. Video surveillance footage showed DeLapp later backdating the court order, Combs wrote. Combs said the former judge then used “ambiguous language” to mislead the Oklahoma Supreme Court into thinking the document was original and not backdated.
Ludlow was not the only person who faced DeLapp’s harsh punishment for minor infractions.
A court document filed by Ludlow’s attorney last February outlined several other instances, including a woman DeLapp sent to jail for allegedly leaving sunflower seeds on a bench in his courtroom.
The woman was jailed on a $50,000 bond and was forced to return to court for nearly a dozen hearings on the case over a two-year span.
There were numerous other instances that led to DeLapp’s downfall as a judge. In Combs’ order from 2018, he mentioned that DeLapp also twice ordered deputies to bar people from entering the courtroom late, Combs wrote in 2018. DeLapp also ordered deputies to arrest defendants who showed up late to court and could not enter.
When DeLapp agreed to resign in 2018, he also agreed to never seek office as a judge again. He was allowed to keep his retirement as part of the agreement.
However, the Oklahoma Bar Association did not sanction him and in 2019 he began to work as a private defense attorney.
Josh Lee, a local attorney who represented Ludlow as she fought for her release from jail, told The Frontier on Monday he believes DeLapp “doesn’t have any business in public service.”
“He doesn’t have the temperament to do it or the ethics to do it,” Lee said. “That is one job that requires high ethical standards and he has demonstrated he does not have those. This is a guy who was accused by the Oklahoma Supreme Court of abusing his power and now he wants to be the chief law enforcement official in the area.”