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

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District Judge Curtis DeLapp. Courtesy
The Chief Justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court alleged in a document filed late Wednesday that Washington County District Judge Curtis DeLapp is guilty of gross neglect of duty, oppression in office and asked that DeLapp be removed from judicial office.

As a result, DeLapp will face a trial the following month in front of a panel of judges from across the state.

DeLapp came under fire in March after The Frontier documented a string of cases where he had ordered people to jail for seemingly minor cases of courtroom misbehavior such as talking in court. In one case profiled by The Frontier, DeLapp ordered a woman jailed without bond for six months after the woman allegedly talked in court.

In the 27-page document filed Wednesday, Chief Justice Douglas Combs laid out a number of allegations against DeLapp, including that he had falsified court records in order to justify a six-month jail term against a woman who had allegedly spoken out loud in his courtroom during a hearing.

DeLapp, he wrote, had 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.”

Further, Combs wrote, DeLapp’s “complete disregard of applicable laws and fundamental rights demonstrates a gross neglect of duty.

“The pattern of conduct demonstrates (DeLapp’s) lack of temperment to serve as a judge.”

The first two cases Combs noted in his order are both cases The Frontier covered in March.

Randa Ludlow.

Randa Ludlow, 19, was a courtroom spectator when she was arrested for contempt last November. Ludlow was allegedly asked to leave DeLapp’s courtroom after talking to another spectator on two occasions, according to court records.

Ludlow left the courtroom, then motioned through the courtroom window to another spectator that she was “going to go downstairs,” and a deputy left the courtroom and took Ludlow to DeLapp’s chambers.

From there DeLapp ordered the woman to 30 days flat time in the Washington County Jail. When Ludlow was handcuffed, she “blurted out that it hurt,” court records state, and DeLapp increased her jail time from 30 days 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 Jan. 9 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.

Direct contempt of court is a severe punishment under Oklahoma law — though the maximum sentence for direct contempt is set at six months in jail, the defendant does not get an attorney, a hearing, or a bond, and must spend the entirety of the sentence in jail.

Four days after The Frontier’s story, The Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered Ludlow to be released from jail immediately.

But she was not the only one who had apparently faced harsh punishment by DeLapp for seemingly minor infractions.

A court document filed by Ludlow’s attorney last February outlined several other instances, including a woman who was sent to jail for allegedly leaving sunflower seeds on the courtroom bench.

The woman was jailed on a $50,000 bond and was forced to return to the court for nearly a dozen hearings on the case over a two-year span.

Other cases in Ludlow’s petition accuses DeLapp of abusing his authority by issuing contempt citations against numerous other attorneys, potential jurors, defendants and courtroom spectators.

In one case cited in the petition, DeLapp in 2013 dismissed five felony charges, most of which involved theft of property, and one misdemeanor charge against a man after the assistant district attorney showed up to court eight minutes late.

Court records show that, during the man’s sentencing, the court reporter was sent to fetch the assistant district attorney, who after arriving asked the judge not to dismiss the cases. DeLapp agreed to not dismiss the cases (though records show he had already done so), but cited the assistant district attorney with contempt of court, the petition states.

In another instance, a courtroom spectator was held in contempt in 2014 after muttering something under his breath during court, though the petition states the judge did not hear what was said and had to be told what the man said by an Office of Juvenile Affairs worker who was nearby.

Court records show the man was found to be in contempt for “using foul language” and was sentenced to 30 days jail time, serving only the first two days and then bringing his work schedule back to court for the imposition of the remaining 28 days.

DeLapp then asked the man, who had driven another defendant to court for an appearance, for his driver’s license to get the spelling of his name.

The man said he had left his license at home, and when asked by the judge, said it was not suspended. DeLapp then had a deputy run the man’s name through a law enforcement database and found that it was suspended, court records state. The man was then given the full 30-day sentence to be served as “flat time,” records show.

Other cases cited in Ludlow’s petition include a case where a potential juror was cited for contempt after she brought children from her daycare with her to the courtroom, another potential juror was cited for contempt for saying a swear word, and numerous attorneys being held for contempt of court for being late or failing to show up to court even though in many cases the attorneys had substitute attorneys present.

In Combs’s order, he also noted multiple instances of DeLapp ordering people to jail for contempt without filing the proper paperwork, or imposed jail for time “direct contempt” because the defendants were late to court.

Combs noted that on two occasions in 2017, DeLapp had deputies bar anyone who was late from entering his courtroom, then ordered those unable to get into the courtroom for their hearings to jail, saying they “left (the courthouse) without seeing the judge.”

Combs also accused DeLapp of falsifying court records in the Ludlow case. DeLapp, Combs wrote, had not filed the “contempt court minutes” as required by law when he ordered Ludlow to jail last year.

After the oral arguments before the Oklahoma Supreme Court on March 2 about that case, DeLapp allegedly called his court clerk and asked her to retrieve Ludlow’s case file, Combs wrote.

DeLapp, Combs said, told his clerk “not to look at the files” so she would not “get involved.”

DeLapp was later recorded on surveillance video looking at the files, unable to find the missing “contempt court minutes,” Combs wrote. DeLapp then left and later called his clerk to claim he had found the missing file that he had allegedly written in November when Ludlow was jailed.

DeLapp then used “ambiguous language” to mislead the Oklahoma Supreme Court into thinking the document was original and not backdated, Combs wrote.

“(DeLapp) in fact created the document while alone in his office on March 2, 2018,” Combs wrote.

DeLapp was also accused of interceding on his 18-year-old son’s behalf after the teen got a speeding ticket. DeLapp, Combs said, contacted the assistant district attorney who was handling the case, asking if his son could enter into a diversion program.

The prosecutor later said he was “concerned” about what to do given that he routinely appeared in front of DeLapp, Combs wrote.

DeLapp currently is set to face Linda Thomas in a runoff for his District 11 judicial seat after DeLapp failed to get 50 percent of the vote during the June primary election.

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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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