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The Tulsa World

Cockfighting: AG to ask that suits be linked

The attorney general wants the lawsuits against the ban heard at one time.

A series of nearly identical lawsuits filed in various district courts in the state could soon be combined into one case to decide the fate of Oklahoma's cockfighting ban.

At the same time, an attempt to create a safe haven for cockfighting under Indian law appears to be having the opposite effect.

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson plans to file an appeal of a judge's ruling in the first case brought against the ban and will ask the State Supreme Court to stay all the other cases, spokesman Charlie Price said Tuesday.

"The appeal will ask the justices to decide these cases at one time, rather than go through 77 individual cases," Price said.

The ban was approved by voters on Nov. 5. The law's first challenge resulted in a temporary restraining order from Judge Willard Driesel on Nov. 8. The order, which Driesel later replaced with a preliminary injunction, prevented the enforcement of the ban in a three-county district covered by his court in southeastern Oklahoma.

Since Nov. 8, the cockfighting ban has been put on hold in 10 additional counties in eastern and southern Oklahoma as a result of nearly identical challenges. The lawsuits, filed by Tulsa attorney Larry Oliver, challenge the ban on constitutional grounds and have been filed in counties that have been cockfighting strongholds.

The similarities in the lawsuits will be referenced when the appeal of Driesel's decision is filed, Price said. As of Tuesday, attorneys were still preparing that appeal, Price added.

The ban carries penalties of up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $25,000. It can be enforced in any county where a restraining order or temporary injunction has not been issued.

Enforcement of the ban remains on hold through restraining orders or injunctions in the following 13 counties: Adair, Carter, Cherokee, Choctaw, Johnston, Love, Marshall, McCurtain, Murray, Muskogee, Pushmataha, Sequoyah and Wagoner counties.

Meanwhile, an attempt to circumvent the new law by creating an American Indian safe haven for cockfighting appears to be failing to meet muster. Senior Assistant Attorney General Neal Leader recently sent a letter to one group outlining how the cockfighting ban would apply in Indian country.

Two federal laws, the Federal Enclaves Act and the Assimilative Crimes Act, would allow the anti-cockfighting law to be applied throughout Indian country in Oklahoma, according to Leader's letter.

The Federal Enclaves Act imports into Indian country the entire body of criminal law applicable under exclusive federal jurisdiction. One of the effects of the Assimilative Crimes Act is to borrow most of the state's criminal law and apply it through federal jurisdiction to Indian land, according to Leader.

"Thus, whoever within such an area is guilty of an act, although not made punishable by a specific enactment of Congress, would be punishable if committed or omitted within the jurisdiction of a state in which such place is situated . . . will be guilty of a like offense and subject to like punishment as a matter of federal law," according to Leader.

In essence, a violation of the cockfighting ban could be prosecuted by federal authorities in federal court, with the penalties provided by state law applying, according to Leader's letter. The argument for federal enforcement of the law was passed on to the U.S. Attorneys in Oklahoma, Leader wrote, and he encouraged them to prosecute any violators of the law.

The letter was addressed to an organization that intends to license game fowl breeders, cockfighting pit owners and others allowing them to hold cockfights in Indian country in Oklahoma.

The Kiowa Association for the Preservation of Cultural and Rural Lifestyles informed the Attorney General's Office earlier of its intent to start licensing.

The Lawton-based association, owned and founded by Michael Turner, would sell licenses to cockfighters that would allow cockfighting on aboriginal Kiowa territory. Turner's Nov. 4 note to the Attorney General's Office references tribal treaties and the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 in arguing for licensing cockfighting under Indian law. Leader rebuffed that argument.

Whether "you act through your association, or otherwise, and regardless of whether you act with or without the Kiowa Tribe's cooperation, you cannot create a safe haven from Oklahoma's anti-cockfighting law," according to Leader.