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Okla. attorney challenges citizen lawsuit change - RealClearPolitics
October 06, 2011The Associated Press

Legislation that makes it more difficult for residents to file a legal action to stop government wrongdoing violates the Oklahoma Constitution and provides increased protection for government corruption, an attorney argued in a lawsuit filed Thursday.

Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent is trying to prevent the law from taking effect Nov. 1. He argues in his lawsuit, filed at the Oklahoma Supreme Court, that the plan approved during the last legislative session would make it more difficult for taxpayers to sue over government corruption.

"Why would the Legislature want to do that? Unless they want to make it harder for the taxpayer to find out what the corruption is in the government," Fent said.

Under the proposed new law, the number of signatures required for so-called "qui tam" lawsuits _ or filings by a group of citizens to stop a questionable government action _ would change from 10 taxpayers to 100 registered voters.

Sen. Rob Johnson, who wrote the bill, said the intent was to keep a small group of disgruntled citizens from delaying government projects. He said he believes the new 100-voter requirement is "very reasonable."

Under current law, if such a taxpayer action against government wrongdoing is successful, the resident taxpayer who initiated the suit is entitled to recover half of the value of the money or property that is in dispute as a reward. That provision also was changed under Johnson's bill to allow only for the recovery of reasonable attorney fees and court costs.

"Qui tam" is short for a Latin phrase meaning "one who sues the king and on his own behalf."


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