By DYLAN GOFORTH
Marq Lewis seemed a little disappointed Friday afternoon.
He’d just walked out of District Judge Rebecca Nightingale’s courtroom having suffered a minor defeat. The judge denied his attempt to place under seal the names of 8,865 people who signed a petition seeking a grand jury investigation of the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.
“We’re still the underdogs,” Lewis said as he stood next to Laurie Phillips, the attorney who filed the petition on his behalf.
But his mood soon brightened. Shortly after that hearing ended, he, Phillips and a host of the more prominent volunteers for Lewis’ grassroots organization — We The People Oklahoma — ended more than a month of work by hoisting 510 pages of signatures on top of the Tulsa County Court Clerk’s desk.
“We’re confident,” Lewis said. “A lot of hard work went into this. A lot of hard work by a handful of volunteers who believed in the process and believed they could make change, believed that they could change things.”
Lewis’ group needed only to collect 5,000 signatures from registered Tulsa County voters between May 8 and June 21 to meet the criteria for impaneling a grand jury. The group announced more than a week ago it had passed 6,000 signatures.
So why the heavy, late push for more?
Patty Bryant, secretary for the Tulsa County Election Board said that while it’s impossible to estimate how many signatures will not meet standards — to be valid, a signature must be legible and belong to a Tulsa County voter — some will be tossed.
“It’s inevitable,” Bryant said. “You know, depending on where they had the signatures signed, say, for instance, it’s at some big event and people sign it in a hurry, they could be illegible. There’s really no way to guess, but there will be some that we can’t accept.”
Lewis said he knows some of the signatures won’t count; that’s why it was important “to go above and beyond.”
“We knew from the very beginning that we couldn’t just settle for 5,000 signatures and call it a day,” Lewis said. “People thought we couldn’t do it, they doubted us, and even Terry Simonson (a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office) made a bet that we couldn’t get 5,000 (signatures.) But we did, and it’s very exciting and a big relief.”
So how many of the 8,865 signatures will be accepted? The answer should come soon.
Bryant said her staff of 20 people — 12 full-time employees and eight trained part-time employees — will begin verifying the signatures Monday morning at 8 a.m.
She expects it could take three business days before the signatures are all counted.
“The goal is to have it all wrapped up and back to the court clerk’s office by Thursday,” Bryant said.
‘You better get your guns ready’
Hours before turning over the signatures Friday afternoon, Lewis watched as Phillips attempted to get the petition signatures placed under seal, a move that would have hidden the 8,865 signatures — as well as the names and addresses of the volunteers who circulated the petition — from public view.
Nightingale denied the motion, stating that while she was “not comfortable with how open records are on the internet … it’s the age we live in.”
Phillips’ filed the motion based on threats We The People volunteers said they faced while circulating the petition.
Should the petition pass muster and a grand jury is impaneled, the 510 pages and more than 8,800 names and addresses of its signers and circulators will be imaged electronically and hosted for public consumption on the Oklahoma Supreme Court Network website.
The information will exceed what state employees must release to the public. The state Open Records Act states: “Public bodies shall keep confidential the home address, telephone numbers and social security numbers of any person employed or formerly employed by the public body.”
Three volunteers for We The People testified to encountering varying levels of threats over the last six weeks. Some were cuss words or racial epithets, while others appeared to be more serious. One volunteer said a man stopped by him in his pickup, pointing his hand at him like a gun, mimicking gunshots.
Another said a man confronted her while circulating the petition, going as far as to threaten people who were signing their names. Another volunteer said a man told her that the petition was “going to bring back the race riots.”
She testified that when she told the man she didn’t think that would happen, he responded “you better get your guns ready.”
In the end, Nightingale told Phillips she didn’t find enough evidence for “a compelling interest that outweighs the public’s interest in this procedure.”
Attorney John Carwile, of Tulsa-based firm McDonald, McCann, Metcalf & Carwile, argued Friday for Glanz. The sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment or to explain if Carwile was hired by TCSO or by Glanz personally.http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2107838-petition-denied.html
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