OKLAHOMA CITY — Is the pace of justice slowing in Oklahoma?
One Oklahoma judge believes it might be, at least in the county where he presides.
Oklahoma County District Judge Ray Elliott expressed concern about the speed at which criminal defendants are brought to trial during a hearing where he reluctantly granted a motion to postpone the blackmail and computer crimes trial of the co-founder of the Sooner Tea Party.
“I’m frustrated. I’m disappointed. I’m upset,” Elliott said while grilling attorneys for Al Gerhart, 55, about the timing of a motion they filed to postpone Gerhart’s trial. The motion was filed on Friday although jury selection was scheduled to begin for the trial on Monday.
“This is a serious case, as all cases are. It needs to be treated seriously,” Elliott told defense attorneys Mark Wilson and Brady Henderson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma. “It’s embarrassing how many cases in this courthouse get continued.”
Elliott said procrastination and lack of preparation by attorneys is often the reason judges are repeatedly asked to postpone trial dates for the attorneys’ clients. And many defense attorneys assume that their requests will be routinely granted, the judge said.
“It’s a given without
anybody saying it,” Elliott said. “It’s an attitude that, in my opinion, needs to change.”
Wilson said the defense team had been negotiating with prosecutors to avoid the need for a trial at all but that it didn’t work out, making a delay necessary.
Elliott set a new trial date for May 5 and allowed Wilson and Henderson to withdraw from the case. The judge granted another motion naming defense attorney Kevin Adams of Tulsa as Gerhart’s new attorney.
The charges against Gerhart involve an email he allegedly sent to a state senator about legislation favored by his group, which supports conservative political candidates and causes. Gerhart has pleaded not guilty.