OKLAHOMA CITY — In the nine months since Joy Hofmeister was charged with four felonies by the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office, she has been tight-lipped on the subject.
That wasn’t just because of the advice of her criminal defense attorney.
She chose to remain in elected office while maintaining her innocence and fighting the charges. And for Hofmeister, that meant keeping her focus strictly on education so her legal troubles would not become a distraction — for her or anyone else.
In an exclusive interview with the Tulsa World on Wednesday morning, Hofmeister offered some insights on the case and experiences she hadn’t felt free to share before the charges were dismissed Tuesday.
“It has been difficult knowing that I haven’t been able to present my side of the story,” Hofmeister said. “Now an outcome we all anticipated and hoped for has occurred. It is all very fresh, and there are many questions I know people have, and yet for me this is very new.”
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Answers to some of those questions will remain elusive for the time being.
Beyond the newness of the criminal case’s dismissal is the fact that Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater left open the window to reviving the case. He said Tuesday that additional information had come to light in the past several months “regarding one or more of the defendants” and that investigators need to follow up on that information.
But Hofmeister did address a host of questions.
Tulsa World: Prosecutors filed a 28-page affidavit in this case with very specific details and allegations, and that document is a public record. Do you worry that people have drawn their own conclusions from what they might have read and the dismissal won’t change their minds?
Hofmeister: There are perceptions. Maybe the hardest part was to be patient and allow the process to run its course.
TW: Can you share your thoughts or reactions to some of the most common things people said in the wake of the criminal charges? First, that you were a political novice who was misled.
Hofmeister: It’s true I was a political novice, but I was not naive. With a husband who is a judge and has experience in the legal field, we took great efforts to make certain we were acting appropriately and would be above reproach. I have been a businesswoman for 15, 16 years. …
TW: What were your thoughts or reactions to public theories that you were targeted for political reasons — first, when the investigation was announced right before your primary election and, second, when charges came down more than two years later and right before a public vote on teacher raises.
Hofmeister: I definitely think people are going to draw their own conclusions. I don’t know the answer to that. I do know this began in a political campaign, and I just have no way to know the reason for timing decisions.
TW: You rode out calls to resign, including by some lawmakers in your own party. How did the pending case and/or public criticism affect how you went about your job for the last nine months?
Hofmeister: Shortly after charges were filed, I was scheduled to do a town hall series of seven locations across state. I had to make a decision: Do we continue? I had some experienced in politics tell me, ‘Just stay out of the public eye,’ and I found that very difficult to do. We have a role in explaining what is happening in education, explaining our budget to lawmakers. The decision was: This will not stop me from whatever was on the schedule, and I will allow the legal process to happen in the courts. I was not interested in answering questions that might come across as trying this in the media. I have respect for the legal process and was able to stay focused, and the people of Oklahoma allowed that.
TW: Did you ever contemplate resigning?
Hofmeister: Absolutely not. This is something I was absolutely confident of my actions. … There are probably some folks who think, “Oh, this would be easier on you.” I did not sign up for something easy. I would not step aside from the work voters sent me to do.
TW: You said at Tuesday’s press conference that the charges were “untrue and unjust,” but prosecutors have an obligation to act based on facts and justice. Does that mean actions taken by prosecutors or anyone working in that office represent wrongdoing?
Hofmeister: I can’t speak to that. That is a one-sided process until everyone has their day in court, and I looked forward to more information we could provide coming out at that time.
TW: Did you contemplate the possibility of jail time?
Hofmeister: Absolutely, I did. This was a serious action that was taken. … When charges are filed, it’s shocking. It’s surreal when you are, like I was, very confident and convinced that this shouldn’t have happened and that I had done nothing wrong. Then you’re asking yourself, “What does this mean? What am I potentially facing?” I absolutely had to come to terms with the maximum 10-year sentence that this could mean for me. I walked through what that meant for my kids — my kids are in their 20s. I have one married son, and I thought about how I would certainly be missing my two daughters getting married and my youngest son and the thought of being in prison, missing the birth of my grandchild or grandchildren over time.
TW: What were the most difficult moments for you personally?
Hofmeister: I did wonder how is this affecting my kids, … and there was also a concern about my husband. I worried about him — and for just how my family was handling this. It was especially challenging for me to see my mom and dad have to endure questions from friends or awkward silences or times when their friends weren’t sure how to approach them about something everyone seemed to know. They were so strong, and my whole family backed me in going through a lengthy (legal) process.
TW: What did you learn?
Hofmeister: You grow up thinking there is a presumption of innocence, and that is true — that is my legal standing — but there’s misperceptions, like some people talking about “indictment” and “charge” as if they are the same. I also learned that any kind of entanglement with the criminal justice system affects your life in small ways and for years to come.
TW: What were some examples of those effects that you encountered?
Hofmeister: Six weeks after the charges, I received something from OSBI that required I surrender my conceal carry license, which is something I did for protection, traveling in the evenings often by myself on the campaign trail.
(Hofmeister went on to explain that she was recently denied a co-lease on an apartment in Oklahoma City because she had responded “Yes” to a background check question about whether she had ever been charged with a felony. She was trying to rent an apartment with her daughter, who recently completed college and secured her first professional job. Since taking office, Hofmeister, whose husband remains living in the family home and working in Tulsa, has been paying to rent a room at a nightly cut-rate at a National Guard armory near the Capitol in order to economize.)
Certainly, this didn’t have anything to do with a drug offense or any violence or any type of high-risk offense, so I thought that this could be overcome, and it wasn’t. Then I was told I couldn’t even visit for a time at my daughter’s (apartment). And that was a shock. And it’s something people who have faced charges or have worked to overcome their past have to deal with. I think this has made me a better public servant, and not in any way to suggest this was necessary. I just think we must learn from life experiences and glean from them and then focus on people with problems far greater than this. I think of people I work with at the Department (of Education). One lost a child, one whose husband is battling an illness and others who have lost family members through tragedies. Those are real problems that this can’t compare to.
TW: You mentioned encountering misperceptions. Were there others or any surprises?
Hofmeister: Something I absolutely know has changed in my mind — when I hear reports — something reported in news. I withhold judgment because I know what that is like. That has changed me in what I hear and just accepting if there’s been a charge, that means a certain thing. It has changed me in my reservation for giving people the benefit of the doubt and knowing we don’t have all of the information. …
One surprise was that we had open mics for hundreds of people at town halls. No one ever called for me to resign in those open forums. That was a big surprise to me. I did expect there would be a muted ability to get things accomplished. I wanted to not be a distraction. I am grateful for those who were generous in giving that space.