In critical analysis, Edmondson ranked among worst attorneys general

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 23-Jul-2010

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) has issued a highly critical assessment of the record of Oklahoma’s Drew Edmondson, describing him as one of the worst attorneys general in the United States.

In a press release circulated nationwide this week, the CEI analysis said, “the worst state attorneys general in the country abuse the power of their office for political ends, undermining rule of law and compromising the integrity of the office.”

Hans Bader, who wrote the CEI analysis, explained, “In recent years, many state attorneys have increasingly usurped the roles of state legislatures and Congress by using lawsuits to impose interstate and national regulations and extract money from out-of-state defendants who have little voice in a state’s political processes.”

Six state attorneys general comprised CEI’s “worst-in-the-nation” list:

1.             Jerry Brown, California

2.             Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut

3.             Drew Edmondson, Oklahoma

4.             Patrick Lynch, Rhode Island

5.             Darrell McGraw, West Virginia

6.             William Sorrell, Vermont

Concerning Edmondson, Bader wrote in the full report:

“The third worst attorney general is Oklahoma’s Drew Edmondson, whose tenure has been marked by a pattern of political bullying and hypocrisy. Edmondson appears to have had no problem with accepting money from out-of-state lawyers, wealthy special interests, and even felons. He has violated state ethics rules and campaign laws. And he has steered lucrative government contracts to lawyers who give him donations (such as generous contingency fees for lawyers that give them up to $250 million simply for bringing copycat lawsuits that mimic pending lawsuits brought by other trial lawyers, and give the lawyers up to 50 percent of what the state recovers).

“Edmondson has also abused the power of his office in order to intimidate political opponents. In 2007, he repeatedly indicted taxpayer activists Paul Jacob, Susan Johnson, and Rick Carpenter for seeking to place on the ballot a Taxpayer Bill of Rights that would have limited the rate of growth of state government spending. These activists, dubbed the ‘Oklahoma Three,’ were led out of the courtroom in handcuffs for their role in hiring petition circulators from across the country to help them gather the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to put the initiative on the ballot. If convicted, they faced up to 10 years in prison.

“Edmondson previously had stated that there was nothing wrong with using people coming from out-of-state to circulate petitions, as long as they resided in Oklahoma for the duration of their work.  Oklahoma’s Secretary of State had given the same advice.

“But Edmondson suddenly changed his position and indicted Jacob, Johnson, and Carpenter for violating a previously unenforced, patently unconstitutional Oklahoma statute banning non-resident petition circulators — a statute interpreted by the state Supreme Court to ban all but ‘permanent’ state residents from gathering petition signatures. While Edmondson’s prosecution may seem lawful by following the letter of the law, rulings on similar laws — and the resulting long odds against his prosecution succeeding — make clear that it was purely political.

“Essentially, Edmondson prosecuted the Oklahoma Three under a law that had already had several legs kicked out from under it. Several federal appeals courts had struck down such residency requirements, and less restrictive ones requiring only brief residency, as violating the First Amendment. That includes the federal appeals court with jurisdiction over Oklahoma, which struck down restrictions on non-resident petition circulators contained in a municipal ordinance in 2002, and struck down the very statute under which Edmondson charged the Oklahoma Three in 2008. But Edmondson persisted in his politically motivated prosecution until 2009, when he finally bowed to the inevitability that he would be found in violation of the First Amendment.

“Moreover, his hanging on to such a thin reed to persecute his political opponents does not speak well of his judgment.

“Edmondson’s office and his supporters defended the prosecutions as a way of keeping people from outside the state from participating in Oklahoma state politics. Such a purpose is flatly at odds with the First Amendment, which protects non-residents and residents alike, and fully applies to petition circulators.

“As one citizen noted in The Oklahoman, ‘The prosecution of Paul Jacob and others for the alleged crime of using out-of-state petition circulators, and the law on which that prosecution is based, are dangerous attacks on our constitutional right to petition for redress of grievances. The tradition of coming to the political assistance of others is well established in American history, law and practice. Should Virginians have stayed home during the Revolution and not assisted the other colonies? Should people not have gone to Alabama in the 1960s to fight injustice?’        

“Out-of-state activists played critical roles in the fight to end segregation in states like Mississippi and Alabama. Even today, they continue to play a critical role in movements for political change, such as the push for term limits, whose leading exponent is Paul Jacob, the most prominent of the Oklahoma Three.

“It is worth nothing how ironic it is for Edmondson to complain about outsiders meddling in Oklahoma politics, when out-of-state opponents of the initiative routinely harassed the petition gatherers, without Edmondson or anyone else questioning their right to come into the state to do so. It is also ironic in light of his willingness to ignore federalism safeguards when it has been convenient for him to do so.

“The law banning non-resident petition circulators was challenged in federal court by supporters of voter initiatives, who often prefer hiring experienced professional petitioners from out of state to gather signatures, because they produce better results, and, in the case of Oklahoma, because of a dearth of experienced petition circulators. The challenge was obviously well-founded, since it was based on a 2002 decision by the same court that struck down a Colorado city’s ban on petitioning by non-residents.

“Edmondson hypocritically claimed that he had no choice but to prosecute the Oklahoma Three, saying, ‘[W]e’re charged with enforcing the laws that are on the books.’ But as The Wall Street Journal noted, ‘[E]very prosecutor has to make judgment calls about how to deploy limited manpower. And in other areas, Mr. Edmondson has opted not to act while legal challenges are pending. Upon learning that the Supreme Court had agreed to review a challenge to the death penalty, for example, he recently requested that all executions be halted until the High Court speaks.’

As for other states, California’s Jerry Brown topped the list for misdeeds like refusing to defend certain state laws he disliked.  One example was Proposition 8, a lawfully-adopted amendment prohibiting gay marriage — a law upheld by the state Supreme Court. 

“Personally, I opposed Prop 8,” Bader said in this week’s CEI release sent to CapitolBeatOK, “but it’s clear, by definition, that an amendment to the state constitution cannot be unconstitutional; and it’s the duty of the attorney general to defend it.”

Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal scored 2nd worst on list.  In CEI’s previous AG report, released in 2007, Blumenthal occupied the worst spot.  But, it’s not merit that bumped him from the worst to the second-worst, Bader explains:  “Blumenthal has not gotten any better since then, but the competition for worst AG seems to have gotten fiercer.”

Blumenthal, “who has used the power of his office to spread largesse to cronies,” continues to earn demerits in CEI’s analysis, for his “ringleader role in the ongoing, corrupt Tobacco Settlement racket of 1998, as well as for his support of racial quotas and speech restrictions, his attack on private property rights, and his various other egregious political activities.”

The report used several criteria for determining who made what CEI and Bader called “the list of shame”: ethical breaches and selective applications of the law; fabricating law, usurping legislative powers; and predatory practices (such as seeking to regulate out-of-state businesses that broke no state law).