The Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered the release of a Washington County woman on Monday who accused a district judge of abusing his authority by imposing a 6-month sentence on her for contempt of court.
Randa Ludlow, 19, was ordered to be freed immediately from the Washington County jail after the Supreme Court voided the contempt order of District Judge Curtis DeLapp and granted Ludlow’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus.
All but one State Supreme Court justice, who did not participate in the case, concurred with the order. A hearing referee heard arguments from both sides on on Friday.
Josh Lee, an Oklahoma attorney who took Ludlow’s case after being notified of her predicament said he was pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision.
“I think just winning (the case) alone is proof that this case was not handled correctly,” Lee said. “The fact that (the Supreme Court) heard it so quickly is a credit to the court of realizing its importance of this case.”
Ludlow was first jailed on Nov. 9, 2017 on a direct contempt of court order by DeLapp, after DeLapp said Ludlow, a court spectator whose boyfriend was a defendant before the judge, would not stop talking in court and refused to leave after being ordered to by sheriff’s deputies.
He sentenced her to six months in jail “flat time,” meaning no time off for good behavior, before ordering her released a few days later on the condition that she stay out of trouble and return to his court later for a review of the contempt case.
On Jan. 9, when Ludlow came in for the review, she was ordered by DeLapp to serve the remaining 5 months and 27 days in jail, court records state, and she was jailed again. Court records show the judge had found out Ludlow had received new charges unrelated to the contempt matter during that time.
Ludlow’s attorney argued that Ludlow did not have an attorney present during any of the contempt hearings and no paperwork was ever filed by the judge ordering that she be jailed.
In the petition filed before the Supreme Court, Ludlow’s attorney also accused DeLapp of abusing his authority on multiple occasions over the past few years by holding people in contempt of court for seemingly minor infractions, including one Washington County woman who received a six month jail sentence and was held on a $50,000 bond after being cited by DeLapp in direct contempt of court for leaving sunflower seeds on a court bench and on the floor.
That woman’s contempt case is still being held open by DeLapp, court records show.
Other cases cited by Ludlow’s attorney include jurors being held in direct contempt for using foul language, a potential juror being held in contempt for bringing children from her daycare to the court, and numerous attorneys who were either late for court or were absent from court, even when some had a substitute attorney or a legitimate reason for not being there.
On Friday, DeLapp argued before the Supreme Court referee that during the November hearing for Ludlow’s boyfriend, Ludlow repeatedly tried to communicate with her boyfriend after being told to stop, was combative and disruptive and refused to leave the courthouse after being told to do so.
Even as deputies took Ludlow into custody for contempt, she was still disruptive, shouting “I love you” at her boyfriend, DeLapp said.
DeLapp on Friday also told the referee that he documented Ludlow’s actions in court minutes, but blamed the court clerk for not filing or losing them. Court records show that the contempt hearing documents, which go back to November and January, were filed Friday afternoon.
However, the Supreme Court justices ruled on Monday that what had been filed in the case was not enough to jail Ludlow.
“Neither the ‘court minute’ filed on November 9, 2018, nor the ‘Contempt Court Minute’ filed January 9, 2018, may lawfully be used as a basis for the imposition of punishment against Petitioner (Ludlow) for direct contempt of court…” Chief Justice Doug Combs wrote in the order.
Your financial support for our investigative journalism is now tax deductible. To become a Friend of The Frontier, click here.