Oklahoma lawmakers, including many who are term limited, have one serious piece of business to finish before they go out of office – voting on the impeachment of state Insurance Commissioner Carroll Fisher.
Speaker Larry Adair released a report from a special House committee recommending five articles of impeachment against Fisher. He was accused of neglect of duty, corruption and incompetency.
Adair called the House back into session at 9 a.m. on Sept. 9 to consider impeaching the embattled state official, who also faces two trials on five felony charges, including embezzlement counts.
The House will have only 98 of its 101 members when lawmakers return, but an impeachment vote only requires a majority of a quorum of 51, House officials said.
The House vacancies occurred when Oklahoma City Republican Leonard Sullivan was elected Oklahoma County Assessor, Lawton Democrat Ron Kirby was elected county commissioner and Democrat Mary Easley moved over to the Senate after a special election earlier in the year.
Gov. Brad Henry called on Fisher to resign “in light of the House’s investigative report and its unanimous, bipartisan recommendation for impeachment.
“Although Commissioner Fisher has made it abundantly clear that he does not plan to resign, I would urge him to consider the damage that the impending impeachment proceedings will inflict on the State of Oklahoma. He should consider that the people would be better served by a resignation than a protracted and expensive ouster trial in the Legislature.”
Fisher, 64, said he has done nothing to warrant impeachment and repeated his position that he would not step down.
“I’m in the ring. I’m ready for the fight,” he said after watching from behind a maze of television cameras as Adair announced the committee’s findings.
If the House votes to impeach Fisher, he would be tried in the Oklahoma Senate and would be removed from office if convicted.
It’s been almost three decades since an impeachment vote was held in the House and four decades since an official went on trial in the Senate.
Fisher’s attorney, Irven Box, said he will probably ask the Oklahoma Supreme Court to delay a Senate trial if the House approves impeachment articles. Box said due process issues are involved in his client facing a Senate trial and criminal trials at the same time.
The grand jury probe that led to the charges against Fisher was overseen by the office of Attorney General Drew Edmondson, a Democrat.
Edmondson said the House committee’s action was warranted by the evidence, which included grand jury testimony.
“I further believe that Commissioner Fisher should be removed from office,” Edmondson said. “His removal, by impeachment or resignation, will not resolve the criminal charges pending or deter the investigation that is continuing before the multicounty grand jury.”
The House committee began its impeachment inquiry in April after a resolution calling for the probe by Rep. John Trebilcock, R-Broken Arrow, was approved on an 84-12 House vote.
Trebilcock said Fisher’s “refusal to do the right thing and resign is the height of selfishness” and he is wasting taxpayer dollars by staying in office and forcing the Legislature to vote on impeachment.
House officials said the legislative cost for a special session is traditionally about $20,000 a day, but that does not count special costs that would be involved in prosecuting the case in the Senate. Adair said he would probably name five or six prosecutors for the trial if Fisher is impeached.
The last time an impeachment trial occurred in the Senate was in 1965, when Justice N.B. Johnson was ousted from office in a Supreme Court corruption scandal.
No estimate was given for the length of the impeachment proceedings, but a trial presumably would have to end in the Senate by Nov. 16, when the terms of current lawmakers expire.
“We’re operating under the premise that a trial would need to be completed during the 49th Legislature, which ends on Nov. 16,” said Robin Maxey, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Cal Hobson, D-Lexington.
The eight-member House committee that investigated the Democratic official was made up of five Democrats and three Republicans. Rep. Opio Toure, D-Oklahoma City, was chairman.
The committee’s report found that Fisher demonstrated neglect of duty, incompetency or corruption through the following actions:
_ Mishandling money raised in connection with an insurance continuing education program.
_ Using his position during a political campaign to obtain personnel records of a political opponent from a company regulated by the Insurance Department.
_ Accepting a gift of artwork and furnishings from entities regulated by his agency.
_ Improperly soliciting donations from entities regulated by Fisher for a charity established in Fisher’s name.
_ Depositing a $1,000 campaign contribution check into his personal checking account.
The committee’s report also had several recommendations, including making the insurance commissioner an appointive office, prohibiting all state officials from soliciting gifts from people or businesses regulated by the officials, and forbidding the insurance commissioner from sitting as a hearing examiner.
The panel investigated two allegations that did not rise to the level of impeachable offenses, according to the report. One involved Fisher’s distribution of “Friends of Fisher” stickers, with instructions that medical professionals affix them to insurance claims.
The other involved a $35,000 check Fisher authorized to be paid to a Florida attorney for fees linked to an insurance company being forced into conservatorship.
The Oklahoma Constitution states that any elected state officer is subject to impeachment for willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, habitual drunkenness, incompetency, or any offense involving moral turpitude committed while in office.
The last impeachment vote in the House led to the resignation of Secretary of State John Rogers.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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