Judge: No change of venue needed for lawsuit against city of Tulsa
BY DAVID HARPER World Staff Writer
Saturday, January 26, 2013
1/26/13 at 5:10 AM
The lawsuit of a man who was released from prison as a result of a grand jury investigation into police corruption will not be transferred out of Tulsa federal court, a judge decided Friday.
U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton ruled that a change of venue is not justified despite Larry Wayne Barnes Sr.'s claim that Tulsa leaders deliberately attempted to "taint the jury pool" by publicly discussing the possible financial repercussions if the city were to be found liable in lawsuits brought against it as a result of corruption within the Tulsa Police Department.
A motion filed Aug. 30 asked that the lawsuit be shifted to another federal district. It alleges that city leaders, including Mayor Dewey Bartlett and Bartlett's former chief of staff, Terry Simonson, campaigned to sway potential jurors through their comments.
Heaton noted that news stories reported that the city would respond to a substantial judgment through its sinking fund and recognized that taxpayers would ultimately bear the impact of any such outcome.
Barnes argued that such coverage could influence the jury pool as it would include Tulsa taxpayers who would have a conflict of interest in light of their potential exposure to higher taxes.
However, Heaton said that if the case eventually goes to trial, many prospective jurors will not be Tulsa taxpayers. The Northern District of Oklahoma federal district court is based in Tulsa but includes 10 northeastern Oklahoma counties in addition to Tulsa County.
Heaton also pointed out that not all people pay property taxes. He wrote that the specific stories cited in Barnes' motion were published in 2010 and did not appear to be part of "some concerted effort" by city leaders to influence potential jurors.
"Even if they were significantly prejudicial, the elapse of over two years between the statements and (any) trial minimizes the risk of them having an impact on prospective jurors," Heaton wrote.
Barnes, who was convicted and sentenced in 2008 on felony drug charges, was freed from federal prison in 2009 as a result of the police corruption probe.
On Jan. 14, Heaton dismissed a separate lawsuit Barnes brought against the federal government, finding that it was not filed in a timely fashion.
Original Print Headline: Judge: Venue fine for lawsuit against city
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