The same weekend Julie Ezell told colleagues she had received “threatening emails” about medical marijuana rules, the former Oklahoma State Department of Health general counsel was offered a job by Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy director Chelsea Church that included the “guarantee” of a pay raise if “you get me a pharmacist in dispensary.”
Church discussed the job with Ezell late Saturday, July 7, as Ezell prepared the OSDH’s final draft of rules for release the next day. The conversation was documented in a series of text messages obtained by NonDoc. Ezell declined to comment about the text exchange but said the conversation was accurate and that the screenshots were from her phone.
Using both her state and private cell phones, Church repeatedly begged Ezell to require the presence of a licensed pharmacist at medical marijuana dispensaries. Ezell’s final draft of rules, released hours later, did not include the pharmacist proposal, but the Board of Health amended the rules two days later to implement the mandate.
At 10:47 a.m. Sunday, Ezell told Church that the rules were “going out today” but that she had not done as the Board of Pharmacy director asked:
Pharmacist has not been included for two reasons. I received a threatening email last night that has kept me tied up with law enforcement. Commissioner asked me to research pharmacist issue more and brief him on it. Please keep all of this confidential.
Prater: ‘I will pursue the matter’
Ezell is facing felony charges for fabricating a series of email threats — referenced in the quoted text above — that she directed at herself. Ezell appears to have attempted to use the threats as leverage during an inter-agency political fight about the medical marijuana rules.
Ezell reportedly admitted her actions to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and resigned Friday. Meanwhile, Attorney General Mike Hunter has advised the Board of Health to amend its controversial rules — including the pharmacist requirement — which he says exceed the entity’s regulatory scope.
But the text exchanges between Ezell and Church have raised entirely separate legal questions concerning the formation of rules for Oklahoma’s new medical marijuana program.
“Until now, I had been completely unaware of this information, and I will pursue the matter,” Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater told NonDoc on Thursday.
Asked whether the situation could be criminal in nature, Prater replied: “Without going into specific statutes or crimes, absolutely.”
Prater famously prosecuted Oklahoma legislators in 2010 for the attempted creation of a state job. A jury agreed that then-Rep. Randy Terrill (R-Moore) had offered the position as a bribe to convince then-Sen. Debbe Leftwich (D-OKC) not to run for re-election.
Church: ‘I have a nice budget’
In the messages (some of which are shown below), Ezell and Church casually disparage Assistant Attorney General John Settle, with Church saying, “I’m going to call his fucking ass out :)”
“GET IT!!” Ezell replies. “Maybe I will bail on OSDH and come work for you! :-):-)”
Church replies, “PLEASE!!!!:)” before texting from her state phone: “You get me a pharmacist in dispensary and then come to our office. I guarantee I can do more than u have now :)”
Minutes later, Church texts and introduces herself to Ezell from her personal cell phone.
“If this settles down, I would honestly love to talk to You about OSBP,” Church says. “We have statutory authority for an attorney and I think u would b a great fit. U tell me what it would take for u to jump and we need to talk!!!!”
Ezell replies, noting that she is on her personal phone:
Hi Chelsea! I am definitely wearing out at OSDH and am not sure how much longer I will stay. And I do think I would love working for you. Unfortunately (well, fortunately for me) I am very well paid for what I do (and deservedly so in my mind) and I may be priced out of your budget. I will text you on this number from now on.
“I have a nice budget,” Church responds. “We need to chat, I really mean it!!
“Seriously I mean it!”
Ezell says she is “totally up for talking” and that she believes “the work you all do is very interesting.”
“I am getting ready to look at the pharmacist stuff again, but I can’t guarantee it,” Ezell writes. “My answer will be what I think we can do legally job offer or not.”
Ezell did not include the pharmacist requirement — nor the controversial ban on the sale of smokeable marijuana — in her final drafted rules, and she warned Board of Health members at the July 10 meeting that she did not believe the statutes passed in State Question 788 provided the authority to implement such rules.
Church hired as Board of Pharmacy director in 2017
Church returned a phone call minutes after the publication of this story. Asked whether the texts attributed to her indeed showed her discussing a job with Ezell that would start after the rule-making process was complete, Church said, “Probably taken out of context, yes.”
“That’s not how things happen. We don’t even have an opening presently. We have an assistant attorney general,” Church said. “Those were comments made by two friends.”
An open records request for electronic communications between Church and Ezell was submitted to the Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy on Monday and remains pending.
Asked about the text messages, Ezell deferred comment to her attorney, Ed Blau.
“Those texts reflect the amount of pressure that my client was under from all sides at that time,” Blau said.
Texts between Church (gray) and Ezell (blue)
(Update: Thirteen minutes after it published, this story was updated at 2:58 p.m. Thursday, July 19, to include comment from Chelsea Church. It was updated at 3:40 p.m. to clarify a sentence.)
(Correction: This story was updated at 10 p.m. Thursday, July 19, to note that Church has been with the Board of Pharmacy since 2012 and only became director in 2017. NonDoc regrets the error.)