NORMAN — A Cleveland County special judge confirmed Monday that he is receiving rental payments from two private court services that have clients who come before the judge.
Special Judge Steve Stice said that it has never been a secret regarding his connection to these services.
“All the judges knew and the district attorney knew about these connections before I became a judge,” Stice said.
Stice said before becoming a judge, he “consulted personally” with Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn, who has been critical lately of the judge since he started sending offenders charged with aggravated drunk driving to a private court service rather than to the DA’s office for supervision. Those charged with aggravated DUI had to blow at least a 0.15 alcohol content, which is more than twice as much alcohol content of 0.08, required for regular charge of drunk driving.
The district attorney receives $40 per inmate each month, which Mashburn said he must have to operate his office and prosecute more serious crimes like rape and murder.
Everyone involved in the controversy agrees that the overriding problem is district attorneys throughout Oklahoma need more funds allocated by the state legislature so they can do their jobs.
Mashburn is president of the Oklahoma District Attorneys’ Association that is working with the state legislature, seeking a bill to assure DAs throughout the state get the $40 fee.
Records show that Stice has a one-third interest in the ownership of four buildings near the courthouse, including one where he had his office when he worked in private practice as a defense attorney.
Julia Curry, director of Oklahoma Court Services LLC, confirmed that she is paying ACS Enterprises $2,321 monthly for rent. She pays another $1,148 a month for office space housing Oklahoma Pretrial Services that supervises accused felons often waiting in jail until their cases come before a judge.
Creation of the service occurred as an effort to cut down on jail time and relieve overcrowding of offenders who often cannot make bond.
Stice said he could not quote the amount of money Curry is paying for the office space because all transactions are handled by Stice’s partner, Marty Coltrane, who manages the buildings.
In addition, Stice and Curry were partners in the Pretrial Services company. District Judge Lori Walkley said all of the judges knew about his property holdings.
The judges required that Stice divest himself of that partnership with Curry when he became judge. Curry signed a contract to pay $99,000 to Stice over a five-year period, with monthly payments of $1,650.
Mashburn said that “so far,” Judge Stice has been diverting only the aggravated charges to Oklahoma Court Services.
“But it is a concern that the judge might start sending even more cases to the private court services program, which could amount to nearly $1 million annually out of the district attorney’s budget of about $5 million,” Mashburn said.
The judges question the DA’s estimate of impact to his budget.
Stice said since he became a judge about two years ago, he has diverted “only 103 cases to Oklahoma Court Services.” Overall, he has handled more than 2,000 cases since he took office, with about 90 percent calling for DA supervision at a lower level.
In late 2010, a state law took effect increasing requirements for what had to be provided to those charged in aggravated DUI cases.
Stice said that is why he started diverting the aggravated DUI cases to Oklahoma Court Services, because the district attorney could not adequately provide those services.
Stice said he finds it curious that complaints about the private supervision programs are surfacing at the same time that the district attorney is voicing concern about losing some of his cases to the private court service.
Stice said he has never been asked to recuse himself in any of these cases of aggravated DUI charges.
“If Mr. Mashburn had a problem, he should have asked me to recuse myself,” he said.
Contacted Monday, Mashburn declined further comment.
“I do not want to comment on anything about Stice’s property interests and that stuff,” Mashburn said.
The DA said it is his legal right to appeal the judge’s actions in certain cases, and the DA’s office should not be penalized for filing the appeal. Mashburn took the issue to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, rather than asking the judge to recuse himself.
The district attorney lost his lawsuit before the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, which sided with Stice.
Chief Cleveland County District Judge Tracy Schumacher acknowledged Monday that questions about Stice’s financial interests have surfaced before, and they are being brought up again when the DA is complaining about losing some of the $40 monthly supervision fees.
Schumacher said judges send the cases to Oklahoma Court Services and Pretrial Services so offenders are checked on at least monthly rather than waiting until a year’s probation has been completed. She said the judges’ concern has to concentrate on services provided to offenders, rather than assigning cases to the district attorney, which provides “little or no supervision.”