Oklahoma often pays lip service to the principle of accountability for its public officials and that’s one important reason the state gets a failing grade, and ranks 40th, in the State Integrity Investigation, a study of transparency and accountability by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity.
One case that serves to prove the point: in Pottawatomie County, Okla. five couples filed for divorce on July 6, 2015, but only one was allowed to keep all the details — even their names — from being included in public records.
Country music superstars Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, who own homes and businesses a couple of counties to the south, were allowed to file their July divorce proceedings under seal, with only their initials appearing on an online court records filing system.
Days before he retired from the bench, Pottawatomie County Associate District Judge John Gardner sealed the couple’s divorce filing at the request of their attorney, despite the fact that divorce filings are public records under Oklahoma law. A separate law mandates any protective order sealing records “shall be public,” but the judge didn’t file one until after media outlets complained.
The public’s right to access information under Oklahoma’s laws continues to be chipped away, and the state lags behind others on measures that could hold judges and other public officials accountable for such behavior.
Oklahoma earned a score of 59, an F — one of 11 states to receive a failing grade in the State Integrity Investigation. In 2012, Oklahoma scored a D on the State Integrity Investigation, ranking 38th. The two scores are not directly comparable, however, due to changes made to improve and update the questions and methodology, such as eliminating the category for redistricting, a process that generally occurs only once every 10 years.