OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A former legislator accused of bribing a Senate colleague with a job offer was motivated not by money, but by a desire for more political power and influence, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday at the start of the lawmaker’s trial.
Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, is charged with offering to set up former state Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, with an $80,000-a-year job at the state medical examiner’s office in exchange for Leftwich’s promise to withdraw as a candidate for re-election in 2010. Prosecutors allege Terrill masterminded the scheme so that a Republican colleague of Terrill’s could seek Leftwich’s seat in south Oklahoma City.
“It centered around power, control, influence, manipulation,” Assistant District Attorney Jimmy Harmon told jurors during his opening statement about Terrill’s motive to commit the crime.
Terrill, 44, and Leftwich, 62, both face up to two years in prison and a $1,000 fine if convicted of their roles in the alleged scheme. Leftwich’s trial is scheduled to begin later this year. Both have maintained their innocence.
Harmon laid out the details of a complicated case that involves bills approved by the Legislature in 2010 that would have created a new position of “transition coordinator” at the medical examiner’s office and funded it with proceeds from a wire-transfer fee that Terrill helped create. Harmon suggested Terrill wanted Leftwich not to seek re-election so that a Republican colleague, Rep. Mike Christian, could seek the post in a year in which the GOP was heavily favored to extend its power in state government.
Christian never sought the Senate seat but ran instead for re-election to his seat in House District 93, much of which was located in Leftwich’s Senate district in south Oklahoma City. Christian was never charged. The bills to set up and fund the new job never became law because they were vetoed by former Democratic Gov. Brad Henry after the investigation into Terrill and Leftwich surfaced.
But Terrill’s defense attorney, Chris Eulberg, suggested the prosecution’s case involves “smoke and mirrors” and that Terrill was a hard-working legislator who sought to improve the medical examiner’s office, which had lost its national accreditation in part because of poor conditions at its Oklahoma City headquarters. Eulberg maintained no crime was committed because the job never existed and that even if it had, Terrill didn’t have the authority to offer the job to Leftwich.
Leftwich also would have been constitutionally prohibited from accepting the position, Eulberg argued.
“It’s very simple,” Eulberg told the seven-man, five-woman jury. “All you have to do is listen for evidence that Rep. Terrill offered Debbe Leftwich a bribe. And he didn’t, because that didn’t happen.”
The prosecution’s first witness was Cherokee Ballard, a former television reporter who worked as the legislative liaison for the medical examiner’s office in 2010 and testified that she and the agency’s chief administrative officer, Tom Jordan, felt pressure from Terrill, who made it known he wanted Leftwich hired for the post.
“We felt like we didn’t have a choice,” Ballard said.
Several notable Oklahoma politicians are expected to testify in the trial, including Henry, former House Speaker Chris Benge, former Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee and state Sen. Anthony Sykes, the current chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Judge Cindy Truong has said the trial could last up to two weeks.
Testimony in the case is expected to continue on Wednesday. Several notable Oklahoma politicians are expected to testify in the trial, including former Gov. Brad Henry.