Oklahoma AG Gentner Drummond taking over company ‘blacklist’ lawsuit

Oklahoma AG Gentner Drummond taking over company ‘blacklist’ lawsuit
Oklahoma AG Gentner Drummond taking over company ‘blacklist’ lawsuit

Just days after a district judge issued a temporary injunction against the enforcement of the Oklahoma Energy Discrimination Elimination Act of 2022, Attorney General Gentner Drummond announced he was firing the attorney hired by state Treasurer Todd Russ and taking over the case himself.

Drummond made the announcement in a mid-statement Thursday. Drummond said he was extremely disappointed with Russ — the defendant in the case — and the treasurer’s hand-picked legal counsel, Cheryl Plaxico.

Records show that Plaxico is the ex-wife of former Attorney General Mike Hunter. Plaxico was also the attorney for the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s lawsuit against ClassWallet, a company criticized for improperly spending federal COVID relief funds sent to the state. In addition, she represented the state Education Department in several other matters, including the agency’s efforts to create a state-funded virtual Catholic school.

Drummond’s actions come after a ruling by Oklahoma County District Court Shelia Stinson. Stinson issued a temporary injunction this week, halting enforcement of the Energy Discrimination Elimination Act. Russ, who is charged with enforcing the law, is being sued by former Oklahoma Public Employee Association President Don Keenan, who argued that enforcement was harming his pension .

More: District Court judge halts enforcement of ‘blacklist’ law that restricts investments

“It is extremely disappointing that the counsel hired by Treasurer Russ was unable to secure a favorable ruling in defense of Oklahoma’s anti-ESG law,” Drummond’s statement said. “Because of this failure, the law is now on hold and at risk of being struck down entirely. Oklahomans deserve better.”

Drummond said he had initially chosen a separate firm to serve as outside counsel on the matter, but deferred to Russ after the treasurer insisted on selecting his own attorney to defend the law. The attorney general said he now regrets extending that professional courtesy.

“Treasurer Russ was insisting that he be allowed to choose his own counsel to defend the lawsuit, and I acquiesced,” Drummond said. “No longer will I allow professional courtesy to influence my decisions on this matter. Effective immediately, I have terminated Treasurer Russ’s hand-picked counsel and removed the treasurer from any decision-making role in the lawsuit. “My office will handle all elements of the case moving forward.”

Russ, in a media statement that followed Drummond’s, said his first request for legal counsel was made to Drummond’s office. He said after offering the case to Drummond, he was informed by Trebor Worthen, the attorney general’s chief of staff, that he was declining to take case, but he would recommend outside counsel.

Russ said he approached Drummond again, asking Drummond to be his defender for the lawsuit. “However, his office was only engaged in recommending a different choice in counsel,” Russ’ statement said.

“When asking the Attorney General to take my case, he refused,” Russ said. “So, I was left with no other choice but to choose who I was most comfortable representing me. My constitutional office as the State Treasurer makes me party to the lawsuit, and therefore I don’t believe my decision-making authority can be removed. Certainly, I am disappointed with the outcome but have several facts for appeal. “I had hoped to have the Attorney General as my defender all along.”

What to know about the anti-ESG law, and the companies impacted

Passed in 2022, Oklahoma’s energy discrimination law was the result of a push by the State Financial Officers Foundation, a Kansas nonprofit that promotes anti-ESG legislation and several local oil and gas representatives. The law is part of an ongoing effort by many Republicans on the state and national level to push back against companies that have environmental and social governance polices. Critics say those policies are an attempt to push a climate change agenda at the expense of the oil and gas industry.

At least 20 states have adopted some type of anti-ESG legislation.

Stinson, the district judge, said the law could be harmful to pensioners. In addition, a study from the University of Central Oklahoma “showcases the detrimental impact of the Energy Discrimination Elimination Act on Oklahoma communities and taxpayers,” said the Oklahoma Rural Association, which also opposes the law. The study said state cities and towns were forced to pay more than $180 million in extra expenses because of the law.

“It is clear that the EDEA has caused an unnecessary increase in municipal borrowing rates, increasing costs, harming taxpayers, and resulting in municipalities paying more for less or canceling projects altogether. These unintended consequences are causing significant harm to Oklahoma communities and our economy, ” study author Travis Roach said.

“(The) Plaintiff has established by clear and convincing evidence that the threat of injury outweighs any threatened harm to the defendant, and further that a temporary injunction would serve the public interest,” Stinson wrote in a 15-page court order announcing the decision . Stinson’s order prevents Russ, his employees, agents and his successors in office “from enforcing the provisions of the Oklahoma Energy Discrimination (Elimination) Act of 2022 until and unless the court orders otherwise.”

 
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