Gun law gets its day in court
BY ROBERT BOCZKIEWICZ World Correspondent
Thursday, November 20, 2008
11/20/08 at 2:55 AM
DENVER — A lawyer who represents the National Rifle Association represented Oklahoma's governor and attorney general Wednesday in support of a controversial state gun-rights law.
The law requires employers to allow workers to have guns in locked vehicles where they work. It was struck down 13 months ago by U.S. District Judge Terence Kern in Tulsa.
In arguments Wednesday at the federal appeals court in Denver, lawyer Charles Cooper argued on behalf of Gov. Brad Henry and Attorney General Drew Edmondson that Kern was wrong.
Cooper said his Washington, D.C., law firm earlier this year also supported the state law in written arguments for the NRA as a "friend of the court."
Cooper said Edmondson, rather than having his staff argue on behalf of the state, as is typical, appointed him as a special assistant attorney general to make the arguments.
Tulsa attorney Steven Broussard, on behalf of ConocoPhillips and other employers, argued the law requires employers to allow anyone — not just employees — onto workplace property with guns locked in their vehicles.
Because of that, the law takes away the right of employers to fully control their own property, Broussard said. "We want to protect our employees."
In earlier written arguments, Broussard said the law therefore constitutes "an unconstitutional taking of (employers') property" and their right to exclude anyone from their property.
Cooper contended that Kern wrongly concluded the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act pre-empts the state law.
He said OSHA is meant to require employers to maintain safe workplaces involving conditions over which employers have control.
"Employers have no control over random acts of violence that could occur anywhere," Cooper told a three-judge panel of the court.
Several employers, seeking to have the law struck down, sued the governor and attorney general after legislators passed the law in two stages in 2004 and 2005.
The law was passed in response to Weyerhauser Corp. firing eight workers at a timber mill in southeastern Oklahoma.
The workers had guns in their vehicles at the mill in violation of Weyerhauser policy.
Rep. Jerry Ellis, D-Valliant, a principal author of the gun-rights law, has said disgruntled workers who shoot people in the workplace are going to do so no matter what laws are enacted.
The appeals court, under its typical schedule, is likely to decide next year whether Kern was right to have issued a court order barring the state officials from enforcing the law.
The judges did not tip their hands Wednesday, but one of them, Bobby Baldock, said, "I've got a problem" with Kern's ruling that OSHA pre-empts the law.
Cooper said his law firm, which has represented the NRA in several cases, worked together with Edmondson's office in appealing Kern's decision, leading the attorney general to pick Cooper to argue on behalf of the state officials.
Cooper said the state of Oklahoma is not paying him for his work. "The taxpayers of Oklahoma are getting a good deal," Cooper said.
He declined to say whether the NRA is paying him to argue on behalf of Henry and Edmondson.
He said he and his law firm specialize in constitutional law and have represented clients "in a lot of cases like this."
Edmondson's spokesman Charlie Price said, "When the NRA offered his services (to the attorney general), we thought it was a good idea for the state to avail itself of that expertise."
"Generally, to get an expert to work on your side is a good thing," Price said, confirming Wednesday that the state is not paying Cooper for his work in the case.