Former District 1 Pittsburg County Commissioner Bill Webber says he plans to be at the Pittsburg County Courthouse this week for a hearing to decide if he can run again for his former post.
“Yes, I plan to be there,” Webber said.
He had missed a 2006 hearing when current District 1 Pittsburg County Commissioner Gene Rogers had also contested his candidacy. Since Webber didn’t show up for the 2006 hearing, Rogers won that contest by default.
Webber said earlier this month that he had missed the 2006 hearing because of a medical emergency.
A hearing is set for 3 p.m. Tuesday at the Pittsburg County Courthouse to determine whether Webber will be on the ballot for the upcoming June 24 Primary Election. The matter is to be decided by the three-member Pittsburg County Election Board, with the board to be advised by District 18 District Attorney Farley Ward’s office. The county election board consists of Election Board Secretary Cathy Thornton; Clare Thomas, who is the Democratic representative and Shirley Williams, who will represent the Republican party.
Rogers has contested Webber’s candidacy this time for the same reason he did in 2006 — based on Webber’s 1999 conviction in a case filed as a felony in Pittsburg County District Court.
A Pittsburg County jury had convicted Webber of a single count of “Use of prison labor on private property,” a charge that had been filed as a felony in Pittsburg County District Court.
In returning the verdict, the 1999 jury stressed “no jail time.” Judge Thomas Bartheld then fined Webber $1,000 the same day the jury returned the verdict.
Webber had originally been hit with a nine-count felony indictment. However, all but four of the counts were dismissed. Jurors then acquitted Webber of three of the four remaining counts, finding him guilty during the 1999 trial on the single charge of “Use of prison labor on private property,” on Webber’s land.
Both Rogers and Webber filed as candidates for the District 1 Pittsburg County commissioner’s seat earlier this month, on April 9.
The candidate filing papers included a questions asking all candidates if they had ever been convicted of a felony, or of a misdemeanor involving embezzlement.
Webber checked “no,” and when Pittsburg County Election Board Secretary Cathy Thornton asked him if he understood the question, Webber said that he did.
In documents filed with the Pittsburg County Election Board, also on April 9, Rogers states his official reason for contesting Webber’s candidacy, as follows:
“He was found guilty by a jury in case no. F-98-687 on Aug. 27, 1999, and pursuant to O.S .(Oklahoma Statutes) 26, Section 5-105a is not eligible to be a candidate for or to be elected to any state, municipal or county office.”
However, the law cited in Rogers’ contest of candidacy does not preclude anyone with a felony conviction from ever running for public office again.
It does, however, place a time limit on how long a person convicted of a felony must wait before running for a public office — and that time limit is 15 years following completion of his sentence.
The law, as written, states:
“A person who has been convicted of a misdemeanor involving embezzlement or a felony under the laws of this state or of the United States or who has entered a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to such misdemeanor involving embezzlement or felony or who has been convicted of a crime in another state which would have been a misdemeanor involving embezzlement or a felony under the laws of this state or has entered a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to such crime shall not be eligible to be a candidate for or to be elected to any state, county, municipal, judicial or school office or any other elective office of any political subdivision of this state for a period of fifteen (15) years following completion of his sentence or during the pendency of an appeal of such conviction or plea.”
If it turns out that the 15-year rule applies to Webber, then he will have narrowly missed the time limit — by about four- and-one-half months. The 15-year limit will be reached on Aug. 27, 2014.
However, Webber maintains that the 15-year rule doesn’t apply to him; he contends he’s already eligible to run.
“I contacted an attorney,” Webber said. “They told me because the jury sentenced me to “no jail time,” I had zero years to wait.”
“I could have been a candidate the next day, with no jail time,” Webber contended.
As for the single charge of which Webber was convicted 1999, he still maintains his innocence.
“I wasn’t even guilty of that crime,” Webber said. “I was totally innocent of all nine allegations.”
Webber and the legal system nearly agreed on that point — with the exception of the one 1999 conviction, with no jail time required.
Rogers is seeking a fifth four-year term in office in District 1, while Webber is seeking re-election to the county commissioner’s post he held from 1983 until 1998.
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com