Calvey ICE lawsuit and DA Prater response point to larger legal issues

What may look like yet another squabble between two Oklahoma County public officials actually has long-term legal questions at the center.

In a lawsuit, Commissioner Kevin Calvey is making an attempt to cut District Attorney David Prater out of any decision on whether the Oklahoma County Commissioners can compel the Jail Trust to allow ICE officers full access to the jail.

And, in the process he has raised several larger legal questions that the court will now answer.

See our earlier coverage of Calvey’s petition to the district court:

Calvey petitions court to rule on new county commissioners’ ICE, Jail policy

Who represents the county?

In the rush to achieve what is likely a short-term political goal of supporting ICE, Calvey has raised a very large legal issue about the authority of the DA’s office in county government.

Wednesday, Prater responded to Calvey’s lawsuit with a motion contending that his office should be the first stop for legal opinions not just on the ICE/Jail question, but any legal determination about county business. (See the full document below.)

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And, Prater’s contention is not what’s new.

His office is regularly the first stop for legal questions in county government and has been all along. Various assistant DAs sit in on county government meetings precisely for that purpose.

What’s new is Calvey’s concept that the DA can be cut out of giving legal opinions and representing the county in court.

What’s at stake

Does a county commissioner (like Calvey) or any other private individual have the right to represent the county in court without the district attorney’s office being involved?

Prater’s motion argues that they do not.

“Only the District Attorney can represent Oklahoma County in litigation except for limited instances,” the first line of his motion contends.

He continues, “In this case, the validity and enforcement of a ‘policy’ adopted by Oklahoma County has been submitted for judicial review by private parties not authorized to do so by statute.”

But, that is only one of the large legal questions posed by Calvey’s lawsuit.

Jail Trust powers

In the lawsuit, larger legal questions are at stake than just how much access ICE will have to the Oklahoma County Jail:

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Does the Board of Oklahoma County Commissioners have the power to hand down orders to the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, or Jail Trust about how they will run the jail?

Calvey’s lawsuit asks the district court to rule that they do because the county has leased the Jail building to the Jail Trust.

But Prater’s motion argues that by statute they don’t have that power over a separate county authority established to run the jail and set policy for the jail.

He points to one part of the lease agreement itself between the county and the Jail Trust as showing clearly the relationship between the the county – the owner of the jail – and the Jail Trust that has the authority to operate the jail.

“The provision requires only that the building be operated lawfully, not that BOCC possesses any authority to operate the jail,” Prater’s motion argues.

He goes on to argue that even before the Jail Trust was established when the County Sheriff ran the jail, the BOCC “…and any individual Commissioner, has never had direct operational control of the jail as a matter of law.”

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District Judge Cindy H. Truong has been assigned the case. At publication time, no trial date has been set.

DA David Prater’s motion

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