There may be a heat wave in Oklahoma this week, but sunshine is nowhere to be found in the Sooner State’s court system when it comes to the Daniel Holtzclaw case.
In May, the state attorney general’s office filed sealed evidence and a sealed motion with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, which is considering Holtzclaw's direct appeal filed by public defenders on February 1. (My latest CRTV.com broadcast report on the appeal is available here.)
The OCCA then filed sealed orders remanding the secret cause back to the trial judge, Timothy Henderson. He convened secret hearings in a locked courtroom on June 26 and 27. Holtzclaw's attorneys were excluded. Attendees were uncovered thanks to public information requests by two local OKC TV reporters for surveillance video at the courthouse. The attendees included the judge, a court reporter, representatives from the state AG's office and the DA's office, Oklahoma City’s civil attorney's representative, and the Oklahoma City Police Department crime lab supervisor. (Read DNA Deception: What the Daniel Holtzclaw Jury Never Heard.)
Transcripts of the hearing were filed under seal. The trial judge filed additional secret orders with the OCCA. One day after those sealed filings, the state AG filed an emergency motion, also under seal. The OCCA then immediately filed a "clarification order" under seal. (The full appellate docket for Holtzclaw's case is here.)
Holtzclaw's lawyers and Holtzclaw himself have been left completely in the dark to this day about all of these filings and hearings. Brian Bates, the vigilant private investigator who served on Daniel’s original defense team, is keeping a close eye on the secret proceedings and maintains updates here. After Bates visited the court clerk’s office and asked why the OCCA was not following its own rules regarding disclosure of protective orders, a local reporter did the same and was told by a court employee:
"Those are rules ... and rules are written by the court and the court can override their own rules," the employee explained.
Make no mistake: There may be legitimate reasons for secrecy. In fact, I was quite willing to give the court and the state AG the benefit of the doubt when the original sealed motions and orders were filed. But the stubborn refusal to provide any explanation or disclosure about the scope of the secrecy orders over the past several weeks has eroded that benefit.