McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

March 1, 2014

District Attorney Ward faces OBA complaint; denies allegations

By James Beaty and Jeanne LeFlore
Staff writers

McALESTER — The Oklahoma Bar Association has filed a complaint against District 18 District Attorney Farley Ward — with Ward and his attorney strongly denying the allegations.

As the case now stands, it’s expected to be heard by the Oklahoma Supreme Court later this year, perhaps as soon as March or April.

Ward is the current district attorney for Pittsburg and Haskell counties.

Ward said Friday the action does not have any affect at this point on his handling the district attorney’s office. None of the complaints have been proven.

The OBA’s complaint is in regard to a 2009 first-degree murder case Ward prosecuted as an assistant district attorney in Muskogee County.

In the complaint, the OBA is seeking disciplinary action against Ward.

Ward, who served as prosecutor in the case, obtained a first-degree murder conviction against Clifford R. Potts, of Council Hill, in the 2004 death of Gregory Leroy Clark, of Boynton.

Testimony during the 10-day 2009 trial indicated Clark had been shot in both arms, and had been beaten and cut.

Following the conviction, Potts was sentenced to life without parole.

However, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in 2010 that Potts didn’t get a fair trial because of an inadequate defense and remanded the case back to district court for the collection of additional relevant evidence, according to the OBA complaint.

On Jan. 10, 2011, Judge Thomas Alford found that Potts had received ineffective defense counsel and was prejudiced by his attorney’s failures during the investigation and at trial.

“The district court further concluded that the State failed to provide complete discovery in connection with consideration that the jailhouse informant Peter Williams received for his cooperation during the prosecution of Potts” in violation of state and federal law, the OBA stated.

In an unusual move, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office joined in Potts’ plea for reversal of his murder conviction and life without the possibility of parole sentence, according to the OBA complaint.

In July 2011, after considering the district court’s new finding of fact and conclusions of law, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the verdict and remanded the case for a new trial.

On July 2, 2012, Judge Mike Norman dismissed the murder case against Potts. The state appealed the decision to the Court of Criminal Appeals, but ultimately moved to dismiss the appeal, according to court documents.

On Dec. 20, 2012, the court granted the state’s motion to dismiss.

In addition to Ward, the OBA has also filed a complaint against Potts’ defense attorney Rex Earl Starr.

Ward’s attorney, Doug Sanders, of Poteau, prevailed in the latest argument before the Supreme Court in regard to the complaint.

The OBA sought to have the disciplinary action cases against Starr and Ward heard as a joint proceeding.

Sanders and Ward objected, preferring to have the matter regarding Ward heard on its own.

In an order filed Tuesday, Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Master William G. LaSorsa denied the OBA’s motion to join the two cases and ruled they will now be treated as separate proceedings

In the complaint, the OBA accuses Ward of failing to provide discovery evidence to Potts’ defense attorney — meaning evidence prosecutors might have that the defense could use in bolstering its case for acquittal.

One of the main complaints is that jailhouse witness Williams had other charges against him dropped in exchange for his testimony in the Potts murder case.

Ward, who said he had to take the case to trial on a few weeks notice after the original Muskogee County assistant DA handling the case was terminated, said he never knew of any such agreement.

“I was put in on the trial at the very last minute,” Ward said Friday.

“My first conversation with the witness, I said ‘Were you promised anything?”’ Ward said the witness told him that he had not.

“I did not have time to search for anything that was not there,” Ward said.

It was only after the conviction and an appeal was filed that another assistant district attorney discovered that an application to revoke a previous sentence had been dropped because Williams was going to testify in the Potts trial, Ward said.

Ward said he had been unaware of that.

“That should have been divulged to the defense,” he said.

Ward said he’s convinced Williams was not aware of the application to revoke and had answered truthfully when he said he had not been promised anything in exchange for his testimony,

In court documents, the OBA disagreed.

“The respondent (Ward) knew, or should have known, that this testimony was false,” the OBA complaint alleges, referring to Wiliams’ denial that he received any leniency or advantage in exchange for his testimony against Potts,

The OBA also accuses Ward of failing to provide the defense attorney with criminal records discovery for Williams and five other prosecution witnesses in the case.

Ward said he would never intentionally withhold discovery evidence from the defense.

Neither Tommy Humphries, who is representing the OBA in the case, nor OBA General Counsel Debbie Maddox could be reached for comment as this article was being prepared for publication. Messages left for them Friday did not get a response as this article was being prepared.

Ward said he’s ready to present his case to the state Supreme Court.

“I’m looking forward to being able to show the court what happened and being cleared of these allegations,” he said.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com. Contact Jeanne Leflore at jleflore@mcalesternews.com.