In a statement emailed to the Attorney General’s Office and texted to NonDoc shortly after midnight Friday, Pontotoc County District Attorney Paul Smith said he has resigned from his position teaching U.S. government classes at Holdenville High School.
But a request made at Thursday’s District Attorneys Council meeting and a new statement from Attorney General John O’Connor indicate the lingering complications of Smith’s decision to accept a second public sector job on top of his duties as the chief prosecutor for Pontotoc, Seminole and Hughes counties.
“We have been notified that DA Smith has decided to resign from the teaching position,” O’Connor told NonDoc late Friday. “It is unfortunate that he attributed statements to my office that were never made. My office never gave ‘approval’ to his plans, whether for full-time or part-time high school employment, while keeping his full-time DA job. A district attorney’s position is a full-time job.”
Smith, who is set to leave office in January after declining to run for another term as DA, described the situation as a “miscue” and said he did not mean to aggravate the attorney general.
“I regret any misunderstanding. It was completely unintentional,” Smith said. “I thought my way was within the bounds of the law or else I wouldn’t have done it, and that’s why I checked up on it.”
Smith may also face reprimand at next month’s meeting of the District Attorneys Council.
On Thursday, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Parter requested an agenda item for the Sept. 15 meeting to consider censuring Smith and potentially approving a resolution to encourage sitting district attorneys not to seek additional employment opportunities unless they are part-time and conducted outside of normal business hours.
“This behavior by a sitting district attorney negatively affects all of us in the district attorney system,” Prater said when asked about his request. “This should not be tolerated, and the district attorneys in this state cannot stand for a fellow DA conducting himself in this manner.”
Smith declined to respond to Prater’s comment, but he called the situation a “pickle” and said he decided to resign his teaching position to resolve the conflict.
“I’m really tired of dealing with it,” he said. “I don’t see what the heck all the hubbub is.”
Smith waives school compensation, seeks AG opinion
The concern from Prater, O’Connor’s office and others stemmed from Smith agreeing to teach six sections of U.S. government for the fall semester at Holdenville High School, beginning at 8:05 a.m. Monday through Friday. Beyond drawing an additional public salary and qualifying for a second public pension system, Smith’s dual roles raised questions about how someone could run a district attorney’s office covering three counties while simultaneously working as a full-time teacher.
Smith initially dropped from full-time to part-time status, but after further conversations with O’Connor’s office, he said he decided just to resign from Holdenville Public Schools.
“After our Wednesday afternoon call, I contacted the superintendent by phone and arranged a meeting with the school administrators to inform them that I needed to resign and leave my post as soon as possible,” Smith wrote in his email to O’Connor’s office early Friday. “Arrangements were made and my resignation was accepted. In my written resignation drafted last evening, I have requested to waive any compensation that might be due given the unfortunate circumstances caused at least in part by misunderstanding or ambiguity in the various legal authorities given the history of adjunct teaching services performed by many without an issue.”
Smith told O’Connor’s office that he was formally requesting an attorney general’s opinion, which serves as the official interpretation of a law’s impact until a court hears and rules on it.
Smith, who taught adjunct courses at Seminole State College for 13 years, asked three questions of the AG’s Office:
- Is a state offer and employee prohibited from serving as an adjunct teacher under SB 1119 because the same would violate Title 51 O.S. Section 6 dual office holding provisions?
- If so, how would a state officer or employee ever be able to serve as an adjunct professor at an Oklahoma institution of higher learning as so many have already done over the history of our state?
- Does the actual number of hours committed to an adjunct teaching assignment whether in the public school setting or the public college teaching setting dictate whether the constitutional provisions of giving personal attention to the office are violated; and if so how does that reconcile with 2008 OK AG 6 which provides that temporary absence or incapacity to perform the duties of an office does not constitute abandonment of the office of violate the duty of loyalty; inasmuch as the same is a question of intent of the office holder and their conduct making it a question of fact?
Asked how his district attorney’s office had been doing over the past week as he balanced his teaching obligations and the hassle of media attention, Smith said things were going well in DA District 22.
“The office is doing great. Wow. What a mess,” Smith said. “I certainly didn’t see all this coming or I would have never gone down that path.”
Smith’s full letter to the Attorney General’s Office — as texted to NonDoc — appears below, followed by the formal letter requesting an attorney general opinion:
Attorney General’s Office
Please accept this communication an update to our telephone conference yesterday regarding the adjunct teaching issues.
As you know, I was surprised to learn of the position taken by your office following the earlier communications. After letting the news sink in a bit, it became apparent that regardless of the various arguments that could be made, an unintended appearance of an impropriety had occurred given the media interest. While this situation was accomplished with the best intentions, it has resulted in many unfortunate outcomes, the most disappointing to me is that of the unserved students.
After our Wednesday afternoon call, I contacted the superintendent by phone and arranged a meeting with the school administrators to inform them that I needed to resign and leave my post as soon as possible. Arrangements were made and my resignation was accepted. In my written resignation drafted last evening, I have requested to waive any compensation that might be due given the unfortunate circumstances caused at least in part by misunderstanding or ambiguity in the various legal authorities given the history of adjunct teaching services performed by many without an issue.
Upon reflection today, I drafted the letter requesting a formal AG opinion on the subject at your suggestion to seek the clarification necessary to resolve any ambiguity as to Adjunct teaching service and application of State Officers and Employees similarly situated who may desire also to answer the call of SB 1119.
I had hoped to communicate this information this afternoon in a follow up call as I had understood I would receive but a call did not take place.
Again please accept my appreciation for the courtesy call yesterday and the above updated information. The A.G. Opinion request will be in the mail shortly. I would welcome a follow up call if possible Friday.
Paul B. Smith