Updated June 9, 11:45 a.m. to include a statement from District Attorney Laura Austin Thomas.
In response to a request from the district attorney for Logan and Payne Counties, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board said Monday it has no authority to disqualify members from hearing cases over potential conflicts of interest.
Executive Director Steven Bickley said DA Laura Austin Thomas made a blanket request based on Adam Luck and Kelly Doyle’s previous work with organizations that help inmates transition to life outside of prison.
"The district attorney claims that a conflict of interest exists, requiring disqualification, but it should be noted that the district attorney does not allege any case-specific conflict of interest involving the nine cases being protested this month," Bickley said.
Doyle and Luck were appointed after lawmakers in 2018 mandated two board members come from social services organizations.
Board policies say members are to self-report conflicts of interest and recuse themselves if they think their impartiality is affected. Bickley said recusal in pardon and parole cases, however, count as votes against an applicant.
"The request that you disqualify two members from hearing cases from Logan and Payne counties would structurally change the clemency system against offenders from these counties by having their hearings begin with two strikes against them," Bickley said.
Thomas was busy with cases on the pardon and parole docket Monday but responded to the board's actions in an email on Tuesday. Thomas said her request to have Doyle and Luck disqualified is being filed in each case and centers on the board members' work for organizations that employ people they're voting to release from prison.
"The position of Mr. Bickley that no one but a Board member can raise a conflict of interest in order to avoid improper influence of the Board is absurd," Thomas said. "Persons who have a stake in the decisions being made by the Board must have a right to expect an impartial hearing or the whole process is a pretense.
"We will continue to raise this issue and pursue all legal options available as we owe that to our communities, juries, judges, appellate courts and mostly to crime victims who are re-victimized every time the offenders continue to appear on dockets."