Cygnal poll, McGirt to be released
Cygnal, a Washington-based firm, released a poll conducted April 11 and 12, 2024, in the state of Oklahoma. (Screenshot)

Things are heating up at the Oklahoma State Capitol, but that doesn’t mean the news cycle is slowing down. In fact, it simply sets our newsroom on a crash course for a hectic six weeks between now and the state’s June 18 primary election.

So as you start your week, take a peek at two things.

First, if it’s past 8 a.m. as you persue this, make sure to read this week’s edition of the Monday Minute newsletter for updates on Capitol consternation. (Subscribe for free if you have not already.)

Second, peep the following news nuggets in this quick roundup of interesting items worth following.

Poll: Oklahomans split on Stitt, direction of the state

Cygnal, a Washington-based private polling firm that serves Republicans and has been increasing its work in Oklahoma, released a poll May 1 outlining statewide perceptions among Oklahomans considered “likely voters” in the November general election.

Conducted April 11 and 12 among 615 respondents and carrying a 3.83 percent margin of error, the poll found Oklahomans generally split on favorability for Gov. Kevin Stitt (44.8 percent favorable, 46.8 percent unfavorable) and on perception over the direction of Oklahoma (48.4 percent right direction, 43 percent wrong direction).

At 66 pages (embedded below), the lengthy poll shows stronger favorability for former President Donald Trump than for Stitt and enormous unpopularity for current President Joe Biden.

The poll also dives into a dozen public policy questions, including perspectives about abortion laws, the economy, the minimum wage, graduation requirements, DEI programs and more.

“This latest statewide poll shows that while Oklahoma is a solidly red state and aligned with Republicans on most of the major national issues like border security and illegal immigration, they also prioritize things like education, wages, and the cost of living,” Cygnal pollster Brent Buchanan said in a press release. “These voters have serious concerns about the future of their household finances but also recognize the need for the state to align educational graduation requirements that support a workforce which matches what businesses large and small will need to succeed. This is a unique finding, especially as voters say they would reject a minimum wage hike if it meant further hurting the jobs market across the state. Too often states like Oklahoma get lumped into a group of other likeminded states, but this data proves voters there are engaged, well-versed on the issues, and have a keen eye for what a positive future looks like for their families and businesses.”

Perhaps most surprisingly in a state generally skeptical of government intervention, the poll found majority support across the political spectrum for requiring a government-sponsored identification system to access pornography, with 61 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats favoring such a proposal.

Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?
Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab

Jimcy McGirt to be released from federal prison

The convicted child rapist whose surname will forever be tied to the affirmation of Indian Country reservations in eastern Oklahoma is expected to be released from prison following a plea agreement accepted in federal court last week.

Jimcy McGirt, 75, was first convicted in 1997 of abusing his wife’s 4-year-old granddaughter. A citizen of the Seminole Nation whose crime occurred in Broken Arrow, McGirt appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court on grounds that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation had never been disestablished and that the state of Oklahoma lacked legal authority to prosecute him.

In a split July 2020 decision, justices affirmed the Muscogee Reservations existence and ordered McGirt to stand trial in federal court. The victim, then 28 years old, testified in the trial, and McGirt was sentenced to concurrent life sentences. However, another appeal saw that conviction vacated owing to the judge’s jury instructions, and McGirt — as well as the victim — faced another trial. However, he pleaded guilty in December to a charge of aggravated sexual abuse in Indian Country, and his sentence of 360 months was handed down last week. Because McGirt has remained incarcerated since 1997, his attorney said he expects to be released at some point soon, according to Curtis Killman of the Tulsa World.

“Today’s sentence closes a chapter on a perpetrator who has attempted to evade the legal consequences of his actions at every turn,” Christopher J. Wilson, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, said in a press release. “For the victim, we hope it is but a beginning. To go into a courtroom — to fight to be heard and to be believed—that takes courage. To do so over three decades requires unimaginable fortitude of spirit. It is our hope the guilty plea and the sentence imposed bring some solace and comfort to those most effected by the defendant’s crimes.”

Stitt, however, said McGirt’s potential release is symbolic of the “mess” and “jurisdictional problem” facing Oklahoma in the wake of the man’s eponymous Supreme Court decision.

“When I heard that, I was just really shocked like I think most Oklahomans (are),” Stitt said Friday. “If McGirt gets out — Jimmy McGirt — we should all be saying shame on us.”

Farmers Insurance earthquake settlement: Of $25 million pool, $388,000 paid on claims

A document provided by the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office in April 2024 shows how $25 million designated in a 2021 settlement with Farmers Insurance was used. (Screenshot)

On May 2, residents of Edmond once again felt the ground shake beneath their feet as a 3.5 magnitude earthquake near Interstate 35 and Danforth Road reminded onlookers of the major seismic activity felt in central Oklahoma back in January.

At that time, NonDoc revealed information about former Attorney General Mike Hunter’s actions related to litigation filed against Farmers Insurance by attorneys with which his office worked closely. Hunter’s office and Insurance Commissioner Glenn Mulready ultimately announced a $25 million settlement agreement with Farmers regarding denied claims that were questioned by policyholders.

“This is a great win for Oklahomans who paid premiums for a Farmers earthquake insurance policy,” Hunter said at the time. “I am happy to announce that after negotiations, Farmers agreed to this settlement. Through an exhaustive process, we will ensure each Oklahoman who sustained legitimate damage from an earthquake and submitted a claim to Farmers will have an opportunity for their claim to be independently reviewed and the damage to their property repaired.”

But according to a document provided by current Attorney General Gentner Drummond in response to a records request from NonDoc, only four of about 600 reexamined claim denials were overturned after review. Those eligible for the reconsideration held Farmers Insurance earthquake coverage between 2010 and 2021 and had submitted a claim but had not retained legal counsel to challenge their denial.

Reviewed by Alvarez & Marsal Holdings — which was paid $1.65 million for its work — three claims were paid in January 2023 and fell between $4,688 and $12,692 in amount. A fourth claim that had originally been re-denied by Alvarez & Marsal was appealed to an arbitrator with GableGotwals. Paid $27,294 for their work, the arbitrator awarded $361,783 to the fourth successful claimant in March.

Of the $25 million, $4 million was retained by the Attorney General’s Office, and $1 million was paid to the Oklahoma Insurance Department. But of the $20 million designated for re-review of insurance policy holders who were eligible in the settlement, only about $388,500 was paid out. Instead, $17 million was repaid to Farmers in October 2022, and an additional $932,283 was owed to the company when records were provided to NonDoc last month.

Charges filed against Tulsa County juvenile detention officer

The Tulsa County Family Center for Juvenile Justice is located at 500 W. Archer St, Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Tres Savage)

Criminal charges brought against a Tulsa County detention officer at the Family Center for Juvenile Justice have drawn allegations of broader problems in the county’s correctional system.

As reported by Erin Christy of KJRH, detention officer Jonathan Hines was charged by Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler on April 26 with human trafficking, possessing a cell phone in jail and destruction of evidence.

Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa) released a statement May 2 calling the sex trafficking allegation at the Family Center for Juvenile Justice “nothing less than abhorrent.”

“Knowing this predatory culture exists at FCJJ is unconscionable. The system is broken, both the management and the elected leaders responsible for safeguarding our children who have allowed this to happen must be held accountable,” Nichols said. “I stand with advocates and call for a full, independent investigation into the systematic problems that exist within FCJJ. This does not appear to be a case of one rogue employee, but a collective failure to protect vulnerable children in the care of the county. This situation demands the weight of a full review focused on protecting the children being housed within this facility and not the decision-makers who allowed this to happen.”

Osage Nation’s Million Dollar Elm felled by unknown party

The Million Dollar Elm tree located on the Osage Nation Campus in Pawhuska was toppled by high winds and apparent foul play on the night of April 30.

While the damage was initially believed to be storm-related, saw marks and yellow paint residue on the stump indicated human involvement, according to the Osage News. The Osage Nation Police Department is investigating.

According to the Osage News, after reviewing security footage and consulting with an arborist, law enforcement determined that the tree appeared to have been sawed 40 percent of the way through about six months prior. Cody J. Willard, an expert arborist, told the publication that the tree would have likely died during the summer from the saw damage if the thunderstorm had not knocked it over.

If the perpetrator of the vandalism is not a tribal citizen, then the Osage Nation likely lacks criminal jurisdiction to prosecute the destruction of tribal property. Tribal governments can only exercise criminal jurisdiction over non-tribal citizens for “covered crimes” that have been specifically authorized by Congress. While “covered crimes” include assault of a tribal justice personnel, child violence, dating violence, domestic violence, obstruction of justice, sexual violence, sex trafficking, stalking and violation of a protective order, the current list does not include offenses related to the destruction of tribal property.

While the Osage Nation could charge an Indian perpetrator for sawing down the tree, the state of Oklahoma’s Osage County district attorney or a federal prosecutor would have to file charges against a non-Indian defendant.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs supervised auctions of oil leases for the Osage Reservation at the original Million Dollar Elm starting in 1912. The first Million Dollar Elm tree survived the Osage Reign of Terror, but it died of Dutch elm disease in the 1980s.

In the early decades of statehood, influential Oklahomans and members of the Osage Nation — including Osage writer and politician John Joseph Mathews and Gov. E. W. Marland — would meet at the Million Dollar Elm when auctions were held. The auctions doubled as an opportunity for influential members of the Osage Nation, oil businessmen, and other influential Oklahomans to meet and develop relationships.

In 2014, Osage Nation Secretary Casey Johnson planted a new Million Dollar Elm tree in the same location of the original tree. Now, its felling marks at least the second instance of vandalism against historical artifacts of the Osage Nation in the past two years. In April 2023, a statue of Osage ballerina Marjorie Tallchief by Osage artist John Free was stolen from the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum and sold for scrap metal.

The felling of the famous Sycamore Gap tree near Hadrain’s Wall in England went viral last September, and charges in that case were filed against two men the same day the Million Dollar Elm’s vandalism was discovered. In Alabama, a football rivalry motivated Harvey Updyke Jr. to poison an 80-year-old oak grove at Auburn University. After admitting to the crime on a radio show, Updyke was sentenced to six months in prison and five years probation, according to journalist Scooby Axson.

Ryan Walters answers Summer Boismier complaint

Norman teacher's resignation
When students entered Summer Boismier’s English class at Norman High School on Friday, Aug. 19, 2022, all the books were covered with paper that said, “Books the state doesn’t want you to read.” (Provided)

Following a federal judge’s April 15 refusal to dismiss a defamation lawsuit against him, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters submitted his response to the suit April 29 denying most of the allegations and claiming First Amendment free speech protections.

In her August petition, former Norman High School teacher Summer Boismier alleges that numerous statements Walters made a year previously regarding one of her classroom displays were defamatory.

Boismier resigned from her position just days into the 2022-2023 school year after a parent complained about Boismier covering her classroom library with red butcher paper and writing on it, “Books the state doesn’t want you to read.” Boismier also posted a QR code in her classroom that linked to the Brooklyn Public Library’s Books Unbanned project.

Walters, who was campaigning for the state superintendent position at the time, called for the revocation of Boismier’s teaching certificate. Walters said then Boismier was providing her students with access to “banned and pornographic material.”

After Boismier brought the lawsuit against Walters, he first asked the court to dismiss the case before he answered the complaint. When U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Jones declined to do so, Walters submitted his reply denying most of the allegations against him and arguing that he is not liable for damages because his statements were “substantially true.”

“Mr. Walters is not liable to plaintiff because the statement about which plaintiff complains is protected by the common-law fair comment privilege,” Walters’ lawyer wrote. “Mr. Walters’ statements: involve matters of public concern, are based on true or privileged facts, represent the opinion of the speaker, and were not made for the sole purpose of causing harm.”

Walters’ reply means the lawsuit should move into the discovery phase, where both parties will gather evidence to make further arguments to the judge or at a potential jury trial.

The State Board of Education could also hold a hearing this month to consider revoking Boismier’s teacher certificate, which is set to expire on its own at the end of June.