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State's legal fees in Stitt's tribal gaming flap top $1.5 million

State's legal fees in Stitt's tribal gaming flap top $1.5 million

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Gov. Stitt talks gaming compact

Gov. Kevin Stitt talks about the state of tribal gaming compact negotiations during a December press conference. NATE BILLINGS/The Oklahoman file

OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office has spent more than $1.5 million in legal and other fees in a flap with tribes over gaming compacts.

The costs are expected to rise.

The figure includes costs for attorneys hired to defend Stitt against a Dec. 31 federal lawsuit filed by several tribes.

Stitt alleges the gaming compacts expired Jan. 1 and that Class III gaming, which includes slot machines, roulette and craps, is now illegal. He is seeking higher fees.

The tribes allege the compacts automatically renewed.

Tribes pay the state fees ranging from 4% to 10% in exchange for the right to operate exclusive games.

A federal judge is poised to rule on the matter.

The nearly $1.5 million includes: $746,345.92 to Ryan Whaley for litigation preparation, management of multi-party litigation, mediation and compact negotiations; $275,548.30 to Lytle Soule & Felty for litigation preparation, mediation and compact negotiations; $252,614.37 to Revelation Consulting for mediation and compact negotiations; and $9,975 to Perkins Coie for compact negotiations.

The figures were provided by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

The state also paid Dykema Gossett of Lansing, Michigan, $216,816.12, according to Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office.

The firm was hired to represent the state in negotiating compacts and related agreements with the tribes, drafting related legislation and regulations and for the prosecution or defense of a related proceeding or matter.

The funds came out of Hunter’s office, who was negotiating on Stitt’s behalf.

Stitt initially tapped Hunter to be the lead negotiator on the compacts, but the two parted ways on Dec. 16.

“In each instance, Gov. Stitt was sued by other parties and was forced to hire outside counsel because the Attorney General’s office, which would normally represent the State in such a case, declined to represent the governor and the state in the tribal litigation in state and federal court,” Baylee Lakey, Stitt’s communications director, said in a statement.

Alex Gerszewski, a Hunter spokesman, said Lakey’s characterization of Hunter declining to represent the state is “completely inaccurate.”

When the governor takes a position inconsistent with the advice of the attorney general, or contrary to the law, the attorney general cannot continue to represent the governor in the matter, Gerszewski said.

“Had the governor allowed the attorney general to finish his work, the state could have avoided court all together and the million dollars plus, and climbing, price tag the governor has now burdened the state with,” Gerszewski said.

Hunter remains ready to resume involvement with the compact negotiations, Gerszewski said.

Lakey said Stitt’s legal staff consists of two attorneys who are occupied full time with other matters and do not have the expertise for that type of litigation.

“Because these expenses were associated with the administration of the tribal gaming compacts, the expenses were paid for out of a specific fund established for the administration of tribal gaming,” Lakey said.

Under the compacts, each gaming tribe pays an annual assessment of $35,000 to cover the state’s costs for oversight of covered games.

In addition, tribes pay a one-time $50,000 startup assessment to help the state with administrative and oversight responsibilities.

The $1.5 million does not include the costs Stitt incurred to defend two lawsuits filed by legislative leaders in the Oklahoma Supreme Court concerning compacts he recently signed.

One successfully challenged two compacts Stitt signed with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes.

The court ruled they were invalid because they bound the state to games not found in state law.

The other similar suit is pending.

The cost to the legislature is $52,824.40 for bringing the suit, according to House staff.

More invoices are expected, but the additional costs are not expected to be significant, said John Estus, a spokesman for House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka.

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