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DUI attorneys file lawsuit against state leaders over Senate Bill 643

OKLAHOMA CITY - Attorneys representing the four largest DUI firms in Oklahoma filed a lawsuit Wednesday morning at the state Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of Senate Bill 643.

The attorneys said the bill is unconstitutional and violates due process for Oklahomans.

“This is a bill that, from its very inception, we’ve tried to warn the legislature that there were numerous problems with the bill,” said Brian Morton, a DUI attorney who is representing the four plaintiffs.

The first defendant named in the lawsuit is Governor Mary Fallin.

“She in fact signed the bill but then on the same day issued an executive order that contradicted provisions that were actually in the bill she had just signed,” Morton said.

Also named as defendants are Mike Schultz, President Pro Tempore of the Senate; Charles McCall, Speaker of the House; Michael Thompson, Commissioner of Oklahoma Department of Public Safety; David Prater, Oklahoma County DA; and Steve Kunzweiler, the Tulsa County DA.

“This was a bad bill. We did everything we could to try to get it to not go through,” said one of the plaintiffs, DUI attorney Charles Sifers.

Senate Bill 643 or the Impaired Driving Elimination Act was supported by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and it creates a new program for first-time DUI offenders.

Problem is, the attorneys said it deals with multiple issues, which violates Oklahoma’s constitutional single subject rule.

And, they said it allows for someone’s driver’s license to be taken and destroyed without due process of law.

“That whole system is taken out by this bill. But, it still requires the law enforcement officers to take the person’s license, submit it to DPS. And, then what’s different is DPS is required to immediately destroy that license upon receipt,” Morton said.

“There’s not a one of us here that says drinking and driving is good,” said DUI attorney Stephen Fabian, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

But, the attorneys said it’s important to protect the constitutional rights of all citizens.

“They’re entitled to be treated fairly and appropriately under the constitution,” Fabian said.

We reached out to all the defendants in the lawsuit.

James Williamson, general counsel for Fallin, sent KFOR the following statement:

"Governor Fallin’s executive order is clearly an exercise of her constitutional authority as provided in Article 6, Section 2 of the Oklahoma Constitution to direct the Department of Public Safety (DPS). The purpose of the order is to clarify that the governor expects DPS to follow the decisions of the Oklahoma Supreme Court relating to due-process protection for drivers’ licenses. DPS has assured the governor’s office that it had planned to follow those decisions.

As far as other aspects of the lawsuit, the governor’s office has no comment because it is pending litigation, which will be addressed in appropriate court filings.”

The Department of Public Safety released the following statement on Thursday:

"The Department of Public Safety is aware of the lawsuit recently filed challenging SB643. Although the lawsuit names several entities as Defendants, it is the duty of the Attorney General to defend a lawsuit challenging a state law, and DPS defers to the Office of Attorney General with regard to the defense of SB643. The Department contends that this suit is less about the merits of the new law than about preserving a system that no longer effectively deals with alcohol impaired drivers in Oklahoma."

Rep. Scott Biggs (R, District 51) is one of the authors of the bill.

He sent us this statement Wednesday afternoon:

“It is unfortunate that a small group of attorneys, who make their living only on DUI cases would seek to put the public in harm by letting intoxicated drivers loose on our streets in order to keep putting legal fees in their pocket.

The subject of this bill is one, and only one subject, DUI reform in Oklahoma. This bill addresses the DUI epidemic in our state by setting up a diversion program for those low level, non violent offenders. It requires intoxalizers on vehicles, treatment program and offers rewards such as a driver's license back with no fees for reinstatment for those who complete the program.

For those who do not complete the diversion program, the exact same consequences for the DUI case apply for convictions of Driving with no insurance, driving while license is suspended or running a stop sign arm on school bus. At the conclusion of the criminal case if you are found guilty, have not addressed the problem with treatment, your license is suspended plain and simple.

This bill borrows the best parts from many other, valid and current law. It creates a diversion program tailored for dui cases similar to drug courts, revocation of drivers license to track with criminal case just like Driving under suspension and no insurance cases. It copies the court rules for test from both an recent US supreme court case and our own OSBI evidence standard which had been upheld time and time again.

At the end of the day the legislature created a diversion program to get DUI offenders help and turn their life around, instead of being incarcerated, paying enormous attorney fees, high court cost or turning them loose on the streets.

This bill is constitutional, and will help curb the epidemic of DUI offenders in Oklahoma. It was a GIDPAC taskforce bill, and heavily supported by Mothers against drunk driving.”

The attorneys filing the lawsuit chose to go straight to the state Supreme Court rather than filing in a lower court.