Rep. Ryan Martinez to resign
Rep. Ryan Martinez (R-Edmond) speaks to media Thursday, April 6, 2023. (Tres Savage)

Two days after Gov. Kevin Stitt responded to a filing before the Oklahoma Supreme Court by saying he would call a special election because believed Rep. Ryan Martinez’s recent guilty plea on a felony DUI charge vacated House District 39, Martinez announced late Friday that he will resign.

“While I have followed the guidance of my legal counsel and a letter from the Office of the Attorney General, there are differing opinions about whether I should remain in office,” Martinez said in a press release. “My intention has been to resign at the appropriate time to allow a representative to be seated for next year’s legislative session.

“With such legal uncertainty, I believe now is that time, so that my neighbors can be represented without distraction. I am therefore resigning my position of state representative for House District 39 effective Sept. 1.”

Martinez, who has served as vice chairman of the powerful House Appropriations and Budget Committee, was arrested for actual physical control of a vehicle while intoxicated in October outside The Patriarch, an Edmond bar about two miles from his home. He made a series of false statements to police about where he had been, how far he planned to drive home and whether the Legislature was in session. He inaccurately claimed that legislators are immune from arrest when the Legislature is in session.

HD 39 map

House District 39 runs north from 15th Street to Waterloo Road in Edmond, jutting just west and north of downtown. It is mostly bordered by Western Avenue on the west and Bryant Avenue on the east.

“I take full responsibility for my mistake and apologize to my family, friends, and constituents who have supported me for the last seven years serving House District 39,” Martinez (R-Edmond) said Friday. “I have engaged in court-ordered obligations prior to my plea, and faced my day in court without a conviction. I’m taking accountability for my actions, and making efforts to move forward.”

On Aug. 2, an Oklahoma County District Court judge approved Martinez’s plea deal with Oklahoma County District Attorney Vicki Behenna’s office, which agreed to defer his sentence after a one-year unsupervised probationary period that included a fine and an ignition interlock device. If Martinez, who completed substance use counseling and a victim’s impact panel prior to the plea agreement, avoids further arrest and completes the probationary terms, the case will be vacated and he will not be convicted of a crime.

But to strike that deal, Martinez pleaded guilty to the DUI charge, which was a felony owing to a prior DUI less than 10 years ago. The guilty plea made him ineligible to run for reelection in 2024, and it was ultimately sited by the governor’s office as evidence that a state statute had been triggered to remove him from office.

After Martinez’s plea deal was approved Aug. 2, former Republican Rep. Mike Reynolds — known in office as a stickler for legislative procedural rules and incessant points of order that elongated budget-related votes and irritated his colleagues — filed an application for original jurisdiction with the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Reynolds named Martinez, House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) and Stitt as defendants, arguing that Stitt would be abdicating his legal responsibility if he did not call a special election to replace Martinez.

On Wednesday, Stitt’s general counsel, Trevor Pemberton, filed a response with the Supreme Court, essentially agreeing with Reynolds and arguing that Title 51, Section 8 clearly shows that Martinez’s guilty plea caused him to vacate office.

“Every office shall become vacant (…) upon entering of a plea of guilty or nolo contendere in a state or federal court of competent jurisdiction for any felony or any offense involving a violation of his official oath,” the statute reads.

Martinez and McCall, however, had relied on an unofficial letter from Brad Clark, deputy general counsel in the Office of the Attorney General, that interpreted a separate statute — Title 51, Section 24.1 — as not requiring an office to be vacated unless an official is convicted.

Ultimately, Martinez avoided further showdown over the confusing and nearly duplicative statutes by announcing Friday he would step down Sept. 1, one day before Stitt must call for a special election. When Stitt does, HD 39 will become the second vacant legislative seat facing a special election. Sen. John Michael Montgomery (R-Lawton) recently resigned to take a chamber of commerce job, and Senate District 32 — covering the north side of Lawton and the towns of Fletcher and Elgin — has four Republicans and two Democrats running in Oct. 10 primaries.

“It has been an honor to serve alongside those who work tirelessly to pass beneficial legislation at the State Capitol, and I hope they will continue standing up against corruption, providing the leadership and vision Oklahomans deserve,” Martinez said.

How cases against Martinez, O’Donnell and Davis shook out

During Oklahoma’s regular 2023 legislative session, three members of the House Republican Caucus faced criminal charges, but Martinez will become the only member to resign as a result.

In late March, Rep. Dean Davis (R-Broken Arrow) was arrested for public drunkenness after he and at least one other member of the House GOP Caucus — Rep. T.J. Marti (R-Broken Arrow) — were encountered by officers after 2 a.m. on the patio of Skinny Slim’s next to the Oklahoma City Police Department’s Bricktown station. Like Martinez, Davis told officers that legislators were immune from arrest during session, saying “You can’t detain me” while being arrested.

Davis ultimately pleaded no contest in Oklahoma City Municipal Court and paid a $178 fine to conclude his arrest, which occurred days after his probationary period for a prior DUI arrest had ended. After speaking on the House floor to say he disputed “any wrongdoing,” body camera footage showed Davis arguing with and attempting to “debate” the arresting officer from the back of his patrol car.

The House ultimately voted to censure Davis and remove him from committees pending an apology, the same action the House had taken earlier in session against Rep. Mauree Turner (D-OKC), who allegedly obstructed a law enforcement investigation in the State Capitol. Neither Davis nor Turner has made the formal apology required to lift their censures and rejoin committees.

Less than two weeks after Davis’ formal reprimand on the House floor, new Attorney General Gentner Drummond dismissed a slate of felony charges against House Majority Whip Terry O’Donnell (R-Catoosa) and his wife, Teresa. An Oklahoma County grand jury had indicted the O’Donnells in December 2021 for an alleged conspiracy to change state law in a manner that allowed Teresa O’Donnell to succeed her mother as the state-appointed tag agent in Catoosa, a lucrative job. (Teresa O’Donnell resigned as tag agent shortly before the grand jury indicted her and her husband.)

When he took office in January, one of Drummond’s first actions was to take control of the O’Donnell case from the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office. Despite saying that “Terry’s guilty,” Drummond dismissed the case three months later because he said former Attorney General Mike Hunter had “targeted” O’Donnell because O’Donnell had clashed with Hunter over his handling of the state’s opioid litigation. Hunter, however, had not handled the investigation or the grand jury proceedings.

“I think he violated the law, but I think because he was targeted. I am not going to tolerate the prosecution of a legislator who has the audacity to hold accountable the attorney general. That’s just wrong,” Drummond said April 6. “He was targeted for what I believe is loosely a common practice at the Capitol. The letter (I wrote O’Donnell today) admonishes him and says that you did wrong, but it didn’t rise to the level of a felony, nor do I feel the need to prosecute.”

In the House, O’Donnell and Martinez have been two of the closest friends and allies of McCall, the longest-serving Republican speaker in state history. Ineligible to run again for the Legislature owing to term limits, McCall is set for his final year leading the Oklahoma House in 2024.