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Okla. judge who jailed people for eating sunflower seeds and talking in court has resigned

August 22, 2018 at 5:25 AM

In December 2015, Judge Curtis DeLapp sent a 33-year-old Oklahoma woman to jail on a $50,000 bond, kicking off a legal odyssey that would haunt her for two and a half years.

Her alleged crime? Eating sunflower seeds in his courtroom.

According to a petition filed earlier this month by Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Douglas L. Combs, the whole saga started when Amanda Allred accompanied her boyfriend, Phillip Wesley Haddon Jr., to court. After they left, DeLapp, an elected district court judge, noticed sunflower seeds on the courtroom floor and bench.

The next time Allred returned to court with her boyfriend, DeLapp questioned her about the sunflower seeds. Allred said that she didn’t remember leaving them there and that she was on medication.

DeLapp cited Allred for contempt of court and locked her up. She was released four days later, after telling the judge that she had “learned her lesson and would not eat in the courtroom again,” the petition says. But her ordeal didn’t end there. For the next two and a half years, she would be summoned to court 20 more times for mandatory appearances that stemmed from the original citation.

The sunflower seed incident was just one of many alleged cases of abuse of power referenced in Combs’s 27-page petition to remove DeLapp from the bench. Since 2016, DeLapp has jailed more than 200 people for contempt of court and routinely ignored their right to due process, Combs alleged. He also accused DeLapp of gross neglect of duty, violating Oklahoma’s code of judicial conduct, abusing his position and falsifying court documents, among other offenses.

DeLapp’s trial before the state’s judiciary court was scheduled to begin on Oct. 15. On Monday, however, he announced that he would be giving up his position, effective immediately.

“It is with a heavy heart, but clear conscience, that I announce my resignation and decision to not seek re-election,” he wrote in a statement. “Serving the people of Washington and Nowata Counties for the past 27 years has been my honor and privilege, but I am choosing to prioritize my family at this time.”

Court documents obtained by the Frontier, a nonprofit investigative news outlet based in Tulsa, show that DeLapp signed a stipulation that same day, agreeing that he would never serve as a judge in Oklahoma again. If the settlement is approved by the court, the disciplinary case will be dismissed and DeLapp will keep his retirement benefits.

Since 2003, DeLapp, who previously served as an assistant district attorney, has presided over cases in Washington and Nowata counties, north of Tulsa.

In the case that would eventually lead to his undoing, he sent 19-year-old Randa Ludlow to jail for six months in 2017 after she allegedly talked out of turn in his courtroom. According to the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, Ludlow’s attorney appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court and pointed out numerous other instances in which DeLapp had cited people for contempt of court for talking in his courtroom or leaving trash behind.

In an 8-0 decision, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered Ludlow’s immediate release. But after reviewing the case, the justices found evidence to suggest that DeLapp may have falsified court records.

After telling the Oklahoma Supreme Court he had been unable to locate the record from when he had sent Ludlow to jail, DeLapp claimed to have found the missing document. He then backdated it without informing the court that he had done so, the petition alleges. If DeLapp created a new document while alone in his office and claimed it was the original, he “made a grossly intentional misrepresentation to the Oklahoma Supreme Court,” which is a felony offense, Combs wrote.

Josh Lee, Ludlow’s attorney, told the Frontier that he plans to file a bar complaint against DeLapp, who still holds a law license.

Among the other allegations in the petition for DeLapp’s removal:

Local attorneys told the Associated Press that they’re researching their options for taking legal action against DeLapp — possibly through a class-action lawsuit on behalf of people who paid court fines after improperly being charged for contempt. If DeLapp is found to have committed gross negligence, he might no longer be protected by judicial immunity, Aaron Pembleton, a lawyer in Bartlesville, told the AP.

More from Morning Mix:

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Antonia Noori Farzan is a reporter on The Washington Post's Morning Mix team. She previously worked at the Phoenix New Times.

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