Listen to this article here
(Update: We reached out to Judge Elliott’s’ office. A representative told us that Oklahoma County District Judge Ray Elliott is no longer presiding over the petition application. It has been moved to Judge Don Andrews. The move comes after complaints from residents and our report, which highlighted a conflict of interest between Judge Elliott, DA Prater, and the Julius Jones case.)
A week after filing a petition to convene a citizens grand jury to investigate the Oklahoma County District Attorney, residents say they’re still waiting.
On Wednesday, Oct. 6, residents and civil rights leaders announced the launching of a petition process to investigate District Attorney David Prater’s interference in the clemency process for high-profile death row inmate Julius Jones. The petition application accuses DA Prater of abusing his power by attempting to intimidate members of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board who are tasked with voting on Jones’ case. Presiding District Judge Ray Elliott has so far remained silent.
“Citizens who requested to convene a grand jury through the initiative petition process anticipated a ruling on their petition from Judge Elliot within the statutory four day window–according to Title 38, Section 102 of the Oklahoma Statutes–which ended 5:00 PM Tuesday, October 12,” petitioners said in a statement shared with The Black Wall Street Times.
Petitioners accuse Judge of delaying application
“At the time of this advisory, Judge Elliott has not issued a ruling on the petition. Given the urgency of the matter at hand, petitioners hoped that not only would the court adhere to the statutory timeline, but that the request would be met with the same urgency offered by Judge Elliott to District Attorney David Prater,” petitioners added.
Unlike most states, the ability of residents to launch citizen petitions is enshrined in the Oklahoma Constitution. It’s part of the state’s bill of rights, foundational freedoms afforded to citizens that can’t be overturned by any subsequent state law.
Article 2, Section 18 of Oklahoma’s Constitution details the process for citizens to petition the convening of a citizen grand jury with power to investigate and offer judgement on an elected official. It outlines three major stages of the process.
“A grand jury shall be convened upon the order of a district judge upon his own motion; or such grand jury shall be ordered by a district judge upon the filing of a petition therefore signed by qualified electors of the county.”
Judge’s office says petitioners must hand-deliver application
The law outlines three major stages of the process. First, petitioners must file an application to launch the petition. The presiding district judge would then have four days to decide whether to approve or deny the petition, according to Oklahoma Statute 38.
In the second stage, the petitioners would have only weeks to gather roughly 5,000 signatures for the petition. If approved for the third stage, a district attorney would then handle the investigation. In this case, since the petition seeks to investigate District Attorney David Prater, the Attorney General would have someone from his office or a DA from a different district preside over the investigation, according to Oklahoma law.
Currently, petitions are stuck at the first stage, as the office of Judge Elliott hasn’t made a determination on the merits of the petition.
In a phone conversation with The Black Wall Street Times Thursday morning, petitioners confirmed that they reached out to Judge Elliott’s office to determine why he hasn’t made a ruling on the merits of the petition.
Staff members responded to petitioners, telling them that an Oklahoma County law requires petitioners to hand-deliver petitions directly to their office. On Wednesday evening, petitioners did just that. This means Thursday, Oct 14 is the first official day of the four-day window the presiding district judge has to approve or deny the petition.
We reached out to Judge Elliott’s’ office. A representative told us that Oklahoma County District Judge Ray Elliott is no longer presiding over the petition application. It has been moved to Judge Don Andrews. The move comes after complaints from residents and our report, which highlighted a conflict of interest between Judge Elliott, DA Prater, and the Julius Jones case.
Judge Elliott’s connection to DA Prater a “conflict of interest”
The delay in the process comes after District Attorney has sought to convene his own citizens grand jury to investigate the Pardon and Parole Board after it historically voted for commutation of Julius Jones’ death sentence to life with the possibility of parole. Prater, who has long been at odds with the board, has attempted to silence members, recuse them from voting, and has sued Governor Kevin Stitt in an attempt to prevent any commutations from moving forward. Petitioners worry that Judge Elliott’s connection to DA Prater and his power to approve or deny the petition that would investigate DA Prater represent a conflict of interest.
Moreover, Elliott’s wife, Sandra, is the prosecutor in Jones’ case. She recently argued he should be put to death. Even after hand-delivering the petition directly to Judge Elliott’s office, the actions by officials in Oklahoma County continue to present a picture of unethical conduct in plain view of the public.
Jones’ commutation recommendation represented the first time the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board has ever made such a recommendation for a death row inmate. The historic ruling highlights the doubt plaguing Jones’ cases. Jones has maintained his innocence for over 20 years in a case riddled with racial bias, prosecutorial misconduct, and an ineffective counsel.
Jones faces a clemency hearing on Oct. 26, and, if unsuccessful, a November 18 execution date.
Given the urgency, petitioners are hoping Judge Andrews will swiftly approve their application to begin collecting signatures to convene a citizens grand jury that would investigate DA Prater.
If approved, the judge would be required to impanel a 12-member grand jury “upon the filing of a petition therefore signed by qualified electors of the county equal to the number of signatures required to propose legislation by a county by initiative petition,” the Oklahoma Constitution states.
Petitioners will need to gather around 5,000 signatures within 45 days of the filing date to successfully convene the citizens grand jury.
(Editor’s note: We’ve reached out to the offices of District Attorney David Prater and Judge Ray Elliott. We will update this story when we receive a response.)