By Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater was recently accused, in news stories that garnered nationwide attention, of starting an improper investigation of former Oklahoma Speaker of the House Kris Steele because of disagreements over policy issues.
The allegations came from a former public employee, an investigator who claimed he was asked to investigate the former-top-ranking state Republican legislator. The allegation was that Prater targeted Steele because he did not agree with the latter’s efforts for criminal justice reform in Oklahoma.
Prater strongly rebuffed the charge, and some of his defenders asserted that the former investigator’s current attorney wanted “pay back” for getting dismissed from his job. Nonetheless, the attack garnered nationwide “traction,” as news editors sometimes put it. Last month, Oklahoma’s Republican attorney general defended Prater.
The view from this corner is colored, admittedly, by Prater’s amazing behavior some years ago, assailing supporters of Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip.
Once upon a time, he actually supported – but then rejected – the Justice Reinvestment Initiative reform Steele had advocated.
To understate the situation, Prater’s behavior is at times unusual for a person in such an important position. And, to repeat a point made earlier, here’s a bottom line:
In September 2018, District Attorney Prater promised Dale Baich, a federal public defender who is attorney for death row inmate Julius Jones, that he would share files that no attorney working for Jones had seen.
Prater agreed to provide the information but quibbled that he could only share the information with an Oklahoma attorney. When a colleague with Oklahoma credentials offered to receive the files, Prater agreed. But then, Prater withdrew the verbal offer.
This was another amazing reversal reflecting troublesome temperament (at the least).
In its historic review of capital punishment in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission recommended:
“All Oklahoma district attorneys’ offices and the Office of the Attorney General should be required to allow open-file discovery at all stages of a capital case, including during the direct appeal, state post-conviction review, federal habeas corpus review, and any clemency proceedings.”
For the sake of justice and fairness, D.A. Prater should listen to the better angel of his nature. He must keep his pledge providing to Baich and his team all the prosecution’s relevant files from the Julius Jones case.
NOTE: This commentary is updated from the November 2019 edition of The City Sentinel.