From filing suit against the EPA over ozone emissions to challenging the government listing of the lesser prairie chicken as endangered, they are among the legal challenges undertaken by Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond in his first 100 days in office.
Drummond joined a lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service over its listing of the lesser prairie chicken as endangered. He did so in defense of Oklahoma ranchers, farmers and energy producers.
Last week, Oklahoma was one of 24 states to win a preliminary injunction against an EPA rule that seeks to broaden its jurisdiction of waters.
On another energy matter, Drummond is in the midst of negotiating an agreement over the 18-year old federal lawsuit filed by Oklahoma against poultry companies for chicken litter pollution of the Illinois River watershed and Lake Tenkiller.
According to Gentner’s press office, he implemented other actions during the first 100 days in office.
In his first 100 days in office, Attorney General Gentner Drummond has focused on his top priorities of cracking down on Oklahoma’s illegal marijuana grow operations, combating a culture of corruption and scandal, restoring State relations with tribal governments, and ensuring transparency and openness in government. In other actions, the Attorney General has worked to maintain the integrity of the death penalty, guard against federal overreach, and uphold the U.S. and state constitutions.
Drummond likens his job to that of an umpire calling balls and strikes, underscoring that his guidepost is always the rule of law, not politics.
“My directive is simple but critical. I am wholly focused on protecting the rights of citizens and serving the people of Oklahoma,” he said. “That job is much easier thanks to the skill, passion and deeply committed work of the attorneys, agents and other professionals who comprise the Office of the Attorney General. It has been a busy 100 days for all involved, and the remaining 45 months are certain to be just as action-packed.”
Fighting a culture of corruption, scandal
In January, Drummond dismissed a state lawsuit against a Florida company, ClassWallet, thereby allowing the Attorney General to focus on identifying state actors responsible for misusing millions of federal COVID relief dollars in the Governor’s Education Emergency Relief (GEER) funds. An audit released last year by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General found that GEER money intended to help families with education expenses instead was spent on video game consoles, home appliances, furniture and Christmas trees, among other disallowed items.
Similarly, the Attorney General retained the prosecution of a high-profile case involving millions of dollars in state-appropriated education funds. Epic Charter School’s two co-founders and former chief financial officer are accused of racketeering, embezzlement and other charges. A preliminary hearing conference is set for next month.
In late January, Drummond directed his office to work with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation in that agency’s probe of interactions between the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department and Swadley’s Bar-B-Q. The restaurant chain had received $16.7 million from the State to renovate and operate restaurants at selected state parks as the result of an exclusive contract. The State canceled that contract in April 2022 following allegations of fraudulent activity and improper bidding practice.
Drummond has also addressed corruption by dismissing prosecutions he attributed to political retribution sought by a predecessor. First, Drummond exonerated David Ostrowe, a former Cabinet member of Gov. Stitt’s, after Ostrowe had been wrongfully indicted by a multicounty grand jury under then-Attorney General Mike Hunter. Similarly, Drummond dropped charges against state Rep. Terry O’Donnell and his wife over indictments stemming from another Hunter-led grand jury. While Drummond admonished O’Donnell for poor judgement in authoring legislation in which his family had a financial stake, the Attorney General concluded O’Donnell had been unfairly targeted over a rarely enforced misdemeanor.
Illegal marijuana grow operations
Oklahoma has witnessed explosive growth of illegal marijuana grow operations in the wake of the state’s 2018 legalization of medical marijuana. These criminal enterprises, largely headed by Mexican cartels and Chinese nationals, extend well beyond pot to include human trafficking and distribution of deadly drugs such as fentanyl. The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control estimates that nearly half of the state’s 6,299 marijuana grow operations are illegal.
This legislative session, Drummond has advocated a package of measures – including House Bill 2095, Senate Bill 806 and SB 913 – to give law enforcement the tools and resources to shut down the illegal grows. Moreover, the Office of the Attorney General is in the process of building an organized crime task force.
Underscoring the statewide impact these operations have on public safety, especially in hard-hit rural Oklahoma, Drummond directed his office to lead the prosecution of a prominent Canadian County attorney accused of contributing to the state’s marijuana black market. A preliminary hearing for Matt Stacy is scheduled for May.
On the national level, Drummond is leading 41 other attorneys general to ensure state, local and tribal entities have appropriate and timely access to corporate ownership information critical to fighting crime. The coalition is calling on the Biden administration and a federal treasury bureau not to place burdensome requirements on non-federal entities and investigators seeking access to information that can help identify organized criminals and other bad actors.
Safeguarding an open government
Transparency in government has been a major focus for Drummond. Shortly after taking office Jan. 9, he instructed his team to prioritize handling a backlog of Open Records requests that had languished at the Attorney General’s office, some of which dated back several years. Within two months, that backlog had been eliminated while also processing 109 additional requests.
In addition, Drummond added an assistant attorney general to serve as a public access counselor to help ensure state agencies comply with the Open Meetings and Open Records Acts. Anyone who believes a governmental entity is failing to comply with these laws may now contact the Office of the Attorney General at email@example.com.
In mid-March, the Attorney General requested the first-ever investigative audit of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) amid allegations of wrongdoing. A Cleveland County judge ruled last December that the OTA had violated the Open Meetings Act by using vague language in two monthly meeting agendas.
Accountability of taxpayer dollars was at the forefront of an April 13 formal opinion that found major shortcomings in the state purchasing process. Responding to a request by a state legislator, Drummond found that the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) must maintain oversight over all acquisitions by state agencies, including verifying an agency’s claim that an acquisition is exempt from the Central Purchasing law. The opinion affirmed a recent Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency report that revealed OMES had failed to provide oversight of more than $3 billion of state purchases during Fiscal Year 2022.
Guarding against federal overreach
Drummond has been a staunch critic of routine federal overreach by the Biden administration. The Attorney General filed suit in January against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to remove an illegal regulation allowing the World Health Organization to exert its authority over the United States. In March, Drummond filed litigation against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for rejecting Oklahoma’s plan to reduce ozone emissions. Earlier this month, Drummond sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over a burdensome plan to protect the habitat of the lesser prairie chicken, a move that would adversely impact Oklahoma ranchers, farmers and energy producers. On April 12, Oklahoma was one of 24 states to win a preliminary injunction against an EPA rule that seeks to broaden its jurisdiction of waters.
Funding for the aforementioned litigation is possible through a special State appropriation to protect Oklahoma sovereignty.
Finding a remedy in the water pollution federal lawsuit
Only days after being sworn into office, Drummond was handed the task of negotiating a remedy to an 18-year-old federal lawsuit that the State had filed against poultry companies over poultry litter pollution of state waters, particularly the Illinois River watershed and Lake Tenkiller. While federal Judge Gregory Frizzell found in favor of the State, he directed the Attorney General to forge an agreement with the poultry companies and subsidiaries to ensure environmental cleanup. Drummond has been involved in extensive negotiations with poultry industry leaders while a June 16 deadline approaches.
Ensuring fairness, certainty of the death penalty
In his first week in office, Drummond attended the execution of Scott Eizenber, indicating he would attend every execution to underscore the somber significance of the death penalty. While at Oklahoma State Penitentiary, he spoke with Oklahoma Department of Corrections staff about the stresses of a crowded execution schedule that afforded limited preparation time between events. As a result, Drummond successfully petitioned the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to space the executions at least 60 days apart.
In April, Drummond made a difficult decision regarding death row inmate Richard Glossip, a case long dogged by controversy and doubt. Glossip was twice convicted and sentenced to death – in 1998 and at a 2004 retrial – for the murder of his boss, Barry Van Treese. The case against Glossip was based largely on the testimony of a coworker who had murdered Van Treese but said Glossip had offered to pay him to do so. An independent review of the case ordered by Drummond concluded that inaccurate testimony by the coworker was one of several factors that prevented Glossip from receiving a fair trial. On April 6, the Attorney General filed a motion asking the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to vacate the conviction and remand Glossip’s case back to Oklahoma County District Court for retrial.
Protecting the Constitution
In late February, Drummond withdrew a non-binding legal opinion by former Attorney General John O’Connor that okayed the concept of state-financed religious charter schools. The move came as the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board considered an application for a Catholic charter school at taxpayers’ expense.
On April 4, the Attorney General issued a formal opinion clarifying that the State Board of Education (SBE) cannot create administrative rules without proper direction authorized by the state Legislature. A state representative had requested the opinion after a pair of SBE-approved rules appeared to exceed the scope of that board’s authority.