September 14, 2012
Enid News & Eagle
Enid, Oklahoma 73701
With no little display of triumphalism, the Enid News & Eagle has congratulated and patted itself on the back in a recent Editorial entitled “Victory of Openness.”
The newspaper is referring to its several week long, one-sided coverage of the shameless and malicious prosecution of Eric Edwards, an Enid attorney, for “perjury” in Major County. The case was thrown out by the Special Prosecutor, David Prater, the District Attorney of Oklahoma County. Mr. Prater’s evaluation is important because of his proven objectivity and his willingness to prosecute lawyers in allegations of crimes. Clearly, he was not just extending a “professional courtesy” to Mr. Edwards. He knew none of the parties involved. He was appointed by the Attorney General of Oklahoma to review the case after District Attorney Hollis Thorp recused his office. Mr. Prater found the charges to be lacking in merit, and the Judge assigned to the case, Richard Van Dyck, concurred. Mr. Edwards was vindicated.
Notwithstanding the dismissal, the newspaper has been receptive to the allegations of former Assistant District Attorney Danny Lohmann and repeated those publications even though Mr. Lohmann has been terminated. This has served to wrap him a cloak of martyrdom when, in fact, Mr. Lohmann was simply used by other persons, some of whom at this point are publicly obscure, but whose identifies are known to Mr. Edwards’ lawyers.
The newspaper “coverage” included front-page stories about the Edwards’ case on at least nine occasions. The stories regurgitated the charge of perjury, the identity of the local lawyer defendant, and were a one-sided, biased view of the case.
When finally successful in its efforts and the Edwards’ court file was unsealed, the Enid newspaper abruptly lost interest in further reporting on the case and concluded its coverage with the editorial and an article that was significant for what it omitted. The editorial claimed, “In this case, we basically had a dispute of whether or not one attorney threatened another,” and “What was in the unsealed case file? There was nothing new, really . . . .” Really? This assertion strains credulity and is economical with the truth. There were a lot of “new” details, but you chose to ignore them and not print them. The reasons are not difficult to discern because they involve one of your reporters and the newspaper itself.
Once the records were unsealed and read, they completely support the decision of presiding Judge Linder to seal the records initially, and Judge Van Dyck did not hold to the contrary. The records revealed that District Attorney Hollis Thorp did not authorize or have knowledge of the filing of the charge of perjury and would not have authorized it; and, there is evidence in the record of a personal animus toward Edwards by Mr. Lohmann, Judge Haworth and one other attorney. Hollis Thorp, the District Attorney, confirmed in a conversation with me (reported by a retired Special Agent of the FBI) and in a follow-up letter that it was not true at any time he supported Danny Lohmann “100%” in the Edwards’ case, as Lohmann has repeatedly claimed and which this newspaper has published those false assertions by Lohmann. Danny Lohmann claims he was fired because he filed the Eric Edwards’ criminal case. He would like us to believe that, but it is not the whole truth. Far from it. There were multiple other reasons why Mr. Thorp terminated Mr. Lohmann’s services and some of those reasons are a matter of public record.
But, in fairness to Mr. Lohmann, he was simply used by other people. Mr. Lohmann’s vitriolic attitude toward Eric Edwards is nowhere better demonstrated than in his emails to third parties (also a part of the record) in which he described Mr. Edwards in crude and vulgar language so unprofessional for a lawyer of long standing. But, these go unmentioned in the newspaper although, as noted, they are now a matter of public record in the unsealed case. The conclusion from this evidence, available to you, demonstrates that Mr. Lohmann did not have the requisite professional objectivity to prosecute a case against Edwards. Nor should the District Attorney’s office under his direction have investigated the case. That is the reason we have the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Sheriff’s office and other law enforcement agencies. Mr. Lohmann, however, wanted to control the direction of the investigation, so he kept it in his office rather than to refer it to outside professional law enforcement officers.
Another item missing from your coverage is Judge Linder’s comment, on the record and available to you, concerning the state of affairs in Major County, and particularly the Courthouse. He describes the situation as unique, out of character for the county, troubling, and that he as presiding judge would not further tolerate it. Judge Linder took Judge Haworth off every case (there were 13) involving Eric Edwards and at the same time gave Judge Haworth responsibilities in other counties for reviewing victim protective orders and routine minor civil matters. In other words, he took him down more than a notch.
Perhaps, though, the most interesting omitted detail, which may be the controlling reason the Enid News & Eagle ceased to publish any further news on the Edwards’ case, is that the unsealed records are very persuasive evidence that the Enid newspaper’s own reporter who covered the incident, Jim Neal, a friend of Judge Haworth’s and formerly the editor of the local Fairview newspaper in Major County, was used by the Associate District Judge to publicize Judge Linder’s order and the fact of the charge, all in violation of the Judicial Canons and Judge Linder’s own order. This point is important.
The records you unsealed show there were seven people present in Judge Linder’s chambers while he held the “in camera conference” and sealed the record without objection of the State. Six of those individuals went into the courtroom for the case in question, the Redinger divorce case. Judge Haworth was not present during the in-chamber conference, and Mr. Lohmann was not involved in the Redinger case. He alone excused himself and purportedly returned to his office. We do not know whether Mr. Lohmann directly or indirectly informed Judge Haworth there would be no public statement about the Edwards’ charges and the records were sealed. What we do know is that one minute after Judge Linder ended the in-camera conference (as determined by the digital recording possessed by the Court Reporter), the telephone in Judge Haworth’s chambers was used to make a call to Jim Neal, the Enid reporter, and the parties spoke for 20 minutes. Did Judge Haworth use the phone in his chambers to call Mr. Neal, his friend? It would appear so. Was it in that call that Judge Haworth, in contravention of the Judicial Canons and the order, informed Mr. Neal of the perjury charge against Mr. Edwards and that the record of the case was sealed? Did Judge Haworth make that disclosure because he was irritated, aggravated, and upset that Judge Linder had exercised his discretion to seal the records until Judge Linder knew Mr. Thorp thought the prosecution should go forward? What we also know from our investigation is that Judge Haworth, who is said to be frequently absent from the Major County Courthouse, was in his office that day when he telephoned a local District Judge approximately one hour later after the call to Mr. Neal had been terminated. That local judge has confirmed to me that Judge Haworth informed him of the charges filed against Mr. Edwards. Sharing that information was likewise a violation of Judge Linder’s orders. Judges simply do not put themselves in the position of violating another judge’s order or, worse yet, being an anonymous source for the newspaper to undermine another judge’s order.
Yet, for the newspaper to discuss this very relevant item, which impacts and corrects the distortions previously published, would necessarily draw into question the integrity, professionalism and objectivity of Mr. Neal. The newspaper has obviously decided better to write nothing more on the subject than draw the attention of the activities alleged against Mr. Neal and Judge Haworth.
It is against this background that Judge Van Dyck’s remarks in unsealing the record have greater relevance.
It is of course possible, though the timing of subsequent calls from the newspapers to my office, Mr. Edwards’ office and others suggests otherwise, that Judge Haworth did not call Mr. Neal. Then, the question becomes who did inform him? Justin Redinger? Katresa Riffel? Danny Lohmann? Phil Outhier? If this matter goes forward, as it may, Mr. Neal could be placed under oath and have to reveal or suffer consequences of contempt against himself the identity of his “anonymous source.” Judge Haworth and Mr. Neal may have a truthful explanation of the curious timing of the phone call. But, if they do, one would have thought the newspaper would have reported their denial. The newspaper’s lack of curiosity and failure of reporting is an indirect confirmation of the correctness of our assumption.
Judge Ray Dean Linder is the most senior District Judge in this state. He is the presiding judge of the entire Northwest Administrative Zone and supervises or oversees somewhere between 15 and 20 judges. He is elected to that position by fellow judges. He has been assigned by the Oklahoma Supreme Court some of the most controversial issues and cases in Oklahoma’s history, including issues relating to the Oklahoma City bombing trial in the state court. He has an unquestioned reputation for fairness, objectivity and cautious judicial judgment throughout this state. Judge Linder made it clear that the sealing of the records was only to last so long as it took him to determine Mr. Thorp’s attitude. Since Mr. Thorp then recused himself, the unsealing of the records was delayed in the natural course of events. The unsealing is less a victory for the Enid News than a frank recognition by Judge Van Dyck that with a prosecutor named, and now that prosecutor giving his judgment on the case, i.e. that it lacked merit, there was no reason to continue the sealing order.
Obscured in all of this commotion is the identity of the two lawyers primarily responsible for setting the prosecution in motion. The extent of their involvement may be forthcoming in appropriate forums.
In conclusion, it is Mr. Edwards and Judge Linder who have been vindicated. It is Mr. Lohmann who has been fired, and the Enid newspaper has not covered itself with honor because of its refusal to report what is in the records that it so assiduously sought to unseal. Far from being a “victory for openness,” the Enid News & Eagle’s sudden disinterest does not serve the public. It has served its interest. Ironically, the failure to continue the reporting is a form of sealing (or just not disclosing) the records the paper sought to unseal.
For years, the New York Times on its masthead carried the legend, “All the news fit to print.” The Enid News & Eagle has modified that goal to, “Print the news unless it is embarrassing or inconvenient for the newspaper and its reporters.”