Stillwater News Press

July 18, 2012

Hearing set to unseal records involving dismissed perjury case after Enid News & Eagle challenges judge's ruling


CNHI News Service

ENID, Okla. — A hearing is scheduled for an Enid News & Eagle motion to unseal the

records in a dismissed felony perjury charge filed against Enid attorney

Eric Edwards.



The News & Eagle’s motion to unseal the case is scheduled for a hearing

before Grady County District Judge Richard Van Dyck on July 30 in the Grady

County Courthouse in Chickasha.



The felony perjury charge was filed in Major County on May 17 and sealed the

same day by Presiding District Judge Ray Dean Linder. The News & Eagle was

denied access to the records. No hearings, notice of sealing the case or

announcements of its removal from public view were given.



The News & Eagle filed a suit June 26 to intervene in the case and have the

records unsealed.



In his motion to intervene and unseal the records, News & Eagle attorney

Michael Minnis argued the peremptory sealing of the felony perjury case

violated the newspaper’s rights under the Oklahoma Constitution, the

Oklahoma Open Records Act and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.



The felony perjury charge against Edwards was dismissed Monday pursuant to a

motion filed by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who was

appointed to prosecute the case after Major County District Attorney Hollis

Thorp recused his office from the matter.



Van Dyck ordered the case dismissed Monday and recalled a warrant in the

case. Van Dyck was appointed to preside over the case by Oklahoma Supreme

Court Chief Justice Steven Taylor on June 28.



Major County Court Clerk Shauna Hoffman faxed a copy of the motion and order

to dismiss the felony perjury charge to the Enid News & Eagle Monday. When

asked Tuesday for a copy of the original affidavit filed in the case,

Hoffman said “Judge Van Dyck said the only thing I can give you is what I’ve

given you so far.” Asked for a copy of the order sealing the case, Hoffman

replied, “The only thing I can give you is what I gave you yesterday.”



Hoffman said there is a written order sealing the case, signed by Linder and

file stamped by herself on May 17. Hoffman said there is no written gag

order in the case.



Van Dyck said the case remains sealed under Linder’s original order of May

17.



The News & Eagle requested a copy of the order sealing the case, but was

denied by Van Dyck because Linder filed the order sealing the case under

seal.



Sources indicate the original perjury charge, and the sealed court records,

stem from a contempt of court hearing on a finding against Edwards in

February.



Public court records show Edwards was representing the petitioner in a

divorce proceeding in Major County before Associate District Judge Tim

Haworth. Opposite Edwards was Enid attorney Katresa Riffel, who represented

the respondent in the divorce hearing.



According to court minutes filed in the case, Haworth found Edwards in

direct contempt of court on Feb. 7 for “continuously disobeying the court’s

rulings and for attacking the credibility and integrity of respondent’s

attorney, Katresa Riffel.”



The court minutes also state Edwards was “being disrespectful toward the

court,” and that he told Riffel “he was going to kick her ass and appeal the

case.”



Court minutes filed by Haworth state he consulted with Linder on Feb. 7.

Haworth notes: “Discussed the topic with Presiding District Judge Ray Dean

Linder; Eric Edwards is not entitled to a jury, only to be heard by the

court.”



Edwards appeared before Haworth on Feb. 23 for a hearing on the contempt

finding.



Court minutes from that hearing state “Eric Edwards addresses the court,

states it was a heated hearing and still disputes that he said what

respondent’s attorney said was stated in court and apologized to the court

for his conduct in a heated divorce hearing.”



Haworth ruled and ordered payment of a $500 fine.



Edwards subsequently filed two motions to disqualify Haworth from presiding

over the divorce proceeding. According to an April 18 entry, Enid attorney

Stephen Jones entered the case to make a “special appearance” at the motion

for disqualification hearing. That motion was denied.



On May 17, the same day the felony perjury charge was filed against Edwards,

court minutes show an in-chambers meeting took place with Jones, Edwards,

Riffel and Major County Assistant District Attorney Danny Lohmann, the

state’s prosecutor who filed the perjury charge.



Following that in-chambers meeting, Linder disqualified Haworth from

presiding further over the divorce case. Linder also sealed the perjury case

that afternoon, the contents of which remain hidden from public view.



News & Eagle Publisher Jeff Funk has raised questions as to why Linder and

Jones would go to such great lengths to seal the records of a contempt

hearing and divorce case.



“We don’t know what’s in the case because it’s sealed,” Funk said. “What are

they hiding?”



He said the newspaper is continuing with its motion to unseal the case

because the manner in which it was sealed gives at least the impression of

partiality and undue secrecy.



“It looks like preferential treatment for Edwards, an attorney, to have a

criminal charge against him kept confidential even though charges against

all other adults are handled in open court,” Funk said. “Our objection is to

the secrecy of this case, and we want the court to declare this secrecy,

this special treatment, unlawful and wrong.”



Court records in the divorce case are available HERE