Updated: Oklahoma judge resigns amid abuse of power allegations

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Citing a desire to spend time with his family, rather than the mounting abuse of power allegations made against him, District Judge Curtis DeLapp announced his resignation today, according to a radio station in Bartlesville.

Our original story is below.

District Judge Curtis DeLapp. Courtesy
A campaign website and Facebook page for an Oklahoma district judge facing suspension and possible removal from the bench were deleted Monday, the deadline for which the judge could either submit to voluntary suspension or submit a response to the suspension request.

District Judge Curtis DeLapp, who oversees dockets in Washington and Nowata counties, came under fire earlier this year after it was learned he had sentenced a woman to six months in jail with no bond for allegedly talking inside his courtroom.

That woman, Randa Ludlow, was later ordered released from jail by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. All but one State Supreme Court justice, who did not participate in the case, concurred with the order to immediately release Ludlow, who had been jailed in November for “direct contempt.”

But DeLapp’s problems were far from over. In Ludlow’s application for release, her attorney, Josh Lee, identified other alleged “abuses of power,” including a case where DeLapp had ordered a woman to jail for six months for leaving sunflower seeds on the floor and bench in his courtroom.

That woman was released from jail earlier but was made to continue appearing in court for more than two years on the contempt order.

On Monday, DeLapp’s campaign website and Facebook page, which had remained active through last week, had been taken down.

Curtis DeLapp’s Facebook page for his re-election campaign now returns this error message.
Curtis DeLapp’s campaign website now returns this error message.

The Facebook page, “Re-Elect Curtis DeLapp for District Judge,” now returns an error message saying the page does not exist. DeLapp’s campaign website now shows an error message on a Wix.com landing page.

Earlier this month Douglas L. Combs, Chief Justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, filed a petition alleging DeLapp had falsified court records in order to justify the jail-term he’d given Ludlow. Combs also accused DeLapp of having issued “in excess” of 200 direct contempt citations ordering jail time since 2016. His “use and application of direct contempt ignored each individual’s due process rights,” Combs wrote. “The routine denial of individuals’ access to justice constitutes oppression in office.”

Combs set an Aug. 20 date for DeLapp to either voluntarily submit to a suspension ahead of a hearing next month and trial set for mid October, or to respond to the suspension request with “exhibits and affidavits” in his defense.

Neither DeLapp nor the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints responded to interview requests by The Frontier on Monday. Phone calls and messages to DeLapp’s office went unreturned as well.

The Oklahoma Office of the Courts said that as of 2 p.m. they had received no notice from DeLapp of what his next step would be.

But the deletion of the beleaguered judge’s re-election website and Facebook page at least provided a hint of DeLapp’s intentions.

Regardless of what happens with the potential suspension, DeLapp will face a pre-trial hearing on Sept. 12 at the Oklahoma Supreme Court, followed by a trial on Oct. 15.

He could also resign prior to those dates.

Should DeLapp survive the Supreme Court process, he could still be un-elected. He failed to win re-election outright in June and will face challenger Linda Thomas in the November runoff election.

An Oklahoma judge hasn’t been removed from office since 2002 when Pushmataha County Associate District Judge Doyle E. Blythe was dismissed for “violating the Code of Judicial Ethics and conducting a pattern of oppression,” according to a story in The Oklahoman. Blythe had improperly supported a sheriff’s candidate and was also accused of conducting “euthanasia hearings” at a local hospital, the paper wrote at the time.

Blythe was later acquitted on manslaughter charges after he allegedly struck a bicycle-riding child who died.

Since then, other judges have faced removal from the bench, but have resigned instead. Perhaps the most famous case was former Creek County District Judge Donald Thompson, who was found to have been masturbating with a penis pump during hearings there.

Thompson, who also faced a criminal case, resigned rather than be removed from bench.

Earlier this year a Marshall County district judge, Wallace Coppedge, faced scrutiny after sentencing a cook at a local church camp to probation after the man pleaded guilty to sodomizing a 13-year-old girl. The cook, 37-year-old Benjamin L. Petty, was given 15 years on probation rather than a prison sentence.

More than 100,000 people signed an online petition to have Coppedge removed from the bench (the prosecutor who agreed to Petty’s plea deal resigned) and an effort by a state legislator to have Coppedge dismissed was placed on hold in February.

Despite the controversy, Coppedge drew no challengers for his judicial seat and will remain on the bench for another four years.

As for the future of DeLapp’s dockets — that’s somewhat up in the air. Employees of the Court Clerk’s Offices in both Nowata and Washington counties told The Frontier they had been instructed to refer inquiries to the state’s Office of the Courts.

Jari Askins, administrative director of the courts, told The Frontier earlier this month that should DeLapp be suspended, his dockets would likely be covered by other judges in that district.

“It would be handled with existing personnel,” she said.

Should DeLapp resign or be removed from the bench, his replacement — presumably Linda Thomas, who would become the only candidate for that seat — wouldn’t take over until January.

Related reading

Abuse of power allegations levied at judge who ordered woman jailed without bond for talking during court

Supreme Court orders release of Washington County woman jailed by judge for contempt of court

Washington County judge guilty of ‘gross neglect,’ ‘oppression in office,’ state Supreme Court Justice writes

Facing suspension that could last months, future of beleaguered judge still up in the air

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Dylan Goforth

Editor in Chief/Staff Writer

Dylan is a news junkie and QuikTrip addict. He spends too much time on Twitter, but has launched what will be a failed attempt to cut back in 2018. Contact: dylan@readfrontier.com or 918-931-9405.
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