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City council voting irregularity case awaits ruling

grant miller.jpg
Elizabeth Caldwell
Grant Miller (left) and attorney Jim Hicks await the elevator at the Tulsa County Courthouse on Nov. 22, 2022

Updated Tuesday at 2:14 p.m.

A judge has given legal teams involved in the District 5 Tulsa City Council voting irregularity case until 5 p.m. Tuesday to submit additional evidence.

Judge Doug Drummond listened to closing arguments from both sides, then said he would make a ruling. Addressing a question from incumbent Mykey Arthrell’s attorney, Drummond said the city council swearing-in ceremony scheduled for December is a “secondary concern.”

“I want to get this as right as I can,” said Drummond, who specified he didn’t think it would take him that long to reach a decision. Drummond noted he wanted to thoroughly review cases offered as precedents by attorneys.

Arthrell, who’s asking for another election due to reports that some voters at Precinct 77 didn’t get city council ballots during the span of about one hour on the morning of Nov. 8, said timing is a worry.

“That’s the concern, that you would swear in somebody without having an election that’s verified, so we really need to make sure we get a result before then so we can do the right thing by the citizens of Tulsa,” said Arthrell.

During the short hearing Tuesday morning, Arthrell’s attorney, Taylor Burke, recapped arguments from last week, saying it’s impossible to know who won the election since the election board estimates that 35 voters may not have gotten council ballots on Nov. 8. Election Board Secretary Gwen Freeman testified that 38 voters were possibly denied ballots at Precinct 77, but three were able to vote provisionally later.

Challenger Grant Miller’s attorney, Jim Hicks, said five witnesses were present in the courtroom to testify that they did receive ballots, which would show “guesswork and speculation" in Precinct 77’s voter registry.

Drummond didn’t allow the witnesses to take the stand, saying he didn’t think it was appropriate.

“I just do not believe, based on case law, that it would be proper testimony,” said Drummond.

Drummond also noted that five witnesses would not be enough to show Miller truly won the election, since the margin of Miller’s victory over Arthrell stands at 24 votes, a difference of 11 from the election board’s number of 35 affected voters.

Hicks said he was encouraged by the 5 p.m. deadline, however.

“I was disappointed the judge wouldn’t allow the witnesses to testify, which would contradict the handwritten notations of the poll workers, but he did allow us additional time,” said Hicks.

As for what he may submit before 5 p.m., Hicks didn’t answer directly but praised Drummond for his commitment to review precedent, saying case law is “entirely” in his client’s favor.

A fracas did break out in the hallway after the hearing when another attorney representing Miller, Ronald Durbin, confronted court personnel about policies around recording in the courthouse.

After Public Radio Tulsa tried to conduct interviews in front of the courtroom where the hearing took place, a court employee said media should stick to recording in a hallway in front of the elevators.

Durbin, who said he was defending the media, challenged the employee, as well as law enforcement officers who responded, telling them to “f**k off” and that they were “too fat” to chase him.

Durbin left the courthouse without further incident.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.