Judge praises county’s efforts with juvenile justice

OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma County judge on Wednesday praised Canadian County for finding a way to fund a juvenile justice center.

District Judge Roger H. Stuart said Canadian County is an example of the right way to provide for juvenile justice.

“Canadian County is in an envious position to provide for kids. Other counties don’t have why you have,” said Stuart.

The judge had just signed an order that makes permanent an injunction allowing the county to use a 1996 countywide sales tax to fund the operations of the Gary E. Miller Canadian County Juvenile Justice Center.

“You have a dedicated sales tax. The kids are protected. It is a good thing. The rest of the state could learn a huge lesson from what you have done,” he said.

The judge also said that by having programs in place at the facility, the county is able prevent crimes on the front end.

“That is the solution to prison overcrowding. We have to put funding on the front end,” Stuart said.

Stuart’s order came during a status conference at the Oklahoma County Courthouse. Attorneys for both sides of the lawsuit had requested that the temporary injunction be made permanent.

The Canadian County commissioners were sued in December 2014 by members of the county’s Citizen’s Advisory Board, two former county commissioners and then-sheriff Randall Edwards after the commissioners stopped using a 1996 sales tax to fund programs at the county’s Juvenile Justice Center.

The commissioners claimed they were following an attorney general’s opinion that said the money from the sales tax initiative was limited to the construction, equipping and maintenance of the facility, located east of El Reno.

Wednesday, Commissioner Dave Anderson, who was representing the county, said they had only followed the directions of an opinion by the attorney general’s office that said the money could only be used for the construction and furnishing of the center.

Anderson said neither he nor the other commissioners are “anti-kid.”

“There is a perception that I don’t have compassion for these kids. That’s not the truth,” he said.

Anderson said he and the other commissioners were only following the directions of the attorney general. Now, he was asking the judge to formalize his earlier ruling.

“We ask you once and for all to rule that it authorizes us to fund the programs, operations and salaries from the tax. If that is your ruling, we will abide by it,” Anderson said.

The judge said he had already made that ruling in a previous hearing and had no problem making it permanent.
“I’ve already done that, as did the Supreme Court. It took me about three minutes,” the judge said.

The case was moved to Oklahoma County after all three Canadian County judges recused themselves from the case. In addition, the commissioners were represented by the Cleveland County District Attorney’s Office after Canadian County assistant district attorneys stepped aside as well because of a conflict of interest.

The plaintiffs in the case had argued that funding from the tax should be used not only to build the structure, but could also be used to pay for its operations, including payroll and other programs.

Stuart had ordered the temporary injunction in January 2015 allowing the county to use the sales tax for operations. The injunction was upheld by the state supreme court.

Anderson said he was happy the case has been resolved.

“Resolution is what I was after. It is closure on this issue so when we go through another audit, or when we vote to start another program or when we vote to approve a budget, it is not based on what the outcome of this court case might be. We know today what it is,” he said. “I am happy the case is resolved.”

Yukon resident and attorney Fenton Ramey, whose wife Linda was among the plaintiffs in the case, said the judge’s decision was exactly what the plaintiffs had sought – a way to fund the juvenile justice center.

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