Law & Principles
Ray Carter | July 20, 2022
Effort to stymie OCPA news coverage won’t work
For politicians, occasional bad press clippings go with the job—particularly when a politician does something that constituents may not like. Most understand this goes with the job, others complain. But some resort to indefensible actions.
In an apparent effort to deter the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs from providing accurate, fact-based news from a conservative viewpoint, one lawmaker (technically, his spouse) recently resorted to filing a bogus victim protective order against me.
If the intent was to deter OCPA from covering the activities of lawmakers, let me make this clear: It failed.
OCPA’s mission remains unchanged. We will not cave to intimidation tactics. My work with OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism continues.
Here’s the backstory.
On June 8, OCPA published one of my articles. It focused on complaints of severely inflated property tax bills in rural areas whose county assessors hired third-party vendors to do assessments. Since vendor pay is typically tied to increased tax payments in such arrangements, the vendors were aggressive. DCP Midstream, a natural-gas company, reported its natural-gas pipe is assessed at just $5,402 per mile in Texas, but in one Oklahoma county the same company’s pipe was assessed at $21,541 per mile.
The extreme tax inflation in those rural counties prompted many businesses to protest their assessments in court, a process that can drag out for years and reduces funding for local schools throughout the process. Officials worried the situation would also deter business investment in rural areas that are often starved for jobs.
This year, lawmakers sought to address the problem by limiting the role of third-party entities in the tax-protest process. The bill passed without opposition in the Oklahoma Senate. But it was a different story in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, where state Rep. Anthony Moore was a vocal opponent.
In trying to defeat the bill on the House floor, Moore opposed everyone from the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association to the Organization of Rural Oklahoma Schools and the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration. All supported the bill.
Ultimately, the bill’s supporters prevailed. It passed both chambers of the Legislature and was signed into law by the governor. I wrote an end-of-session story about the issue and moved on. Or so I thought.
As mentioned, that story was posted on June 8. Within 12 days, Rep. Anthony Moore’s spouse filed a petition for a protective order against me in the Custer County District Court. Moore’s spouse wrote that she had received “concerning and unsettling” text messages from two phone numbers and indicated the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation had claimed the texts were from OCPA employees.
The petition targeting me was complete nonsense. I don’t have Mrs. Moore’s phone number. I’ve never texted her, emailed her, or spoken to her. I don’t have Rep. Anthony Moore’s cell number either. My articles have quoted his public statements from the House floor, committee activity, and other public forums. I’ve never been contacted by the OSBI in any way at any time.
Notably, Rep. Moore refused to produce any texts that his spouse implied were sent by me. That’s understandable. It’s hard to produce messages I never sent.
It was also notable that Rep. Moore’s spouse said she received texts from two numbers, but she filed largely identical petitions for protective orders against five people. The math never added up. Texts from two phones might give you reason to file for protective orders against two people, not five. By definition, at least three of the petitions had to be bogus.
In a subsequent radio interview discussing his spouse’s request for a protective order, Rep. Moore effectively conceded that there was no reason to file the request against me, and instead ranted about how much he didn’t like me. But even if Rep. Moore doesn’t like me, that’s not a crime. It is a crime, however, to perjure yourself when filing a request for a victim-protective order. It is also a crime to encourage someone else, including your spouse, to commit perjury.
The Moores’ problems didn’t end there. The form for a protective-order petition begins by asking the petitioner to identify his or her relationship with the other party. The options include current or former spouses, individuals the petitioner has dated or had a sexual relationship with, a parent of a petitioner’s child, someone the petitioner lives with or has an intimate relationship with, and family members.
If you check any of those boxes, the form then directs the petitioner to indicate if he or she is a victim of domestic assault, harassment, stalking, or rape.
But if you DO NOT check any of the aforementioned boxes, the petitioner is directed to another part of the form where he or she can allege rape, sexual offenses, assault and battery with a deadly weapon, forcible sodomy, kidnapping, and stalking (for which a police report must be provided).
Rep. Moore’s spouse never filled out any part of the form identifying any alleged relationship with me—which is understandable, because we have no relationship whatsoever. Yet she filled out the portions of the form alleging harassment, even though that option is available only if the petitioner has some defined relationship with the alleged harasser—basically, an intimate partner.
In short, the petition was patently bogus before the ink was dry. I was not only being falsely accused of harassing someone with a text I never sent, I was also being falsely accused (at least implicitly) of having had a prior intimate relationship with a lawmaker’s spouse.
A court hearing on the petition was set for July 5—which was after the June 28 primary election. Moore was in a heated race at the time the petitions were filed and spent much of the final days of his campaign touting the petitions.
Yet, as soon as the election concluded, the Moores’ attorney reached out and said the Moores would withdraw the petition for a protective order—but only if I agreed to a gag order and agreed not to pursue any legal response. Basically, the Moores offered to yank their bogus request for a protective order that was based on a text message I never sent in exchange for me promising not to tell anyone it was a bogus charge and only if I promised not to sue them.
Obviously, I turned them down and said, in effect, “See you in court.”
The Friday before the July 5 hearing—in which the Moores would have been required to provide actual evidence and the first time I would have any opportunity to be heard in court—they abruptly withdrew the petition and declared all was well.
I never entered into any settlement agreement with the Moores. They simply backed down.
In a statement provided to the Clinton Daily News at the time of the initial June filing, Rep. Moore’s spouse said she filed for the protective order to “protect myself and my children,” while Rep. Moore told the paper the couple would “take whatever steps necessary to protect our family.”
Just for fun, which of the following options do you think is more likely?
The Moores truly believed I was a threat to them and their children but decided the kids’ safety wasn’t worth the effort of appearing in court. Or …
Testifying in front of a judge can have serious legal repercussions for someone who falsely accuses another without any legal justification.
OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism was created to ensure Oklahomans can get news coverage on topics ignored by other media outlets or else covered from a left-wing perspective. We’ve done a good job of fulfilling that mission and have become a valued source of Capitol coverage for many conservative Oklahomans. My story on the property-tax issue is a perfect example. It was a major issue that did not receive widespread coverage from other outlets.
While it is annoying to be falsely accused of harassing someone’s spouse, OCPA will not allow our mission to be altered by such tactics. Our commitment to our readers remains the same. It’s full steam ahead … with only one caveat.
OCPA may purchase a large supply of smelling salts for legislators. Apparently, some politicians get a real case of the vapors when they find out the folks back home may learn what they’ve been up to at the Capitol.
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.