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An attorney who persistently takes on powerful Oklahoma leaders

Filed by Michael Cross in Feature, Local News, News, Politics.
June 14, 2013
 

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For a look at some of the issues Jerry Fent is challenging this year, click here.

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Jerry Fent.

It’s not exactly a household name in Oklahoma, but it’s one every legislator knows.

He’s the self-appointed defender of the Constitution in Oklahoma and frequently takes the legislature to task.

But why does he do it?

Workers at the front desk of the Governor’s office look up as a 78-year-old man serves them with papers challenging yet another bill the legislature has passed into law.

With his suspenders and checked shirt, Jerry Fent is not exactly the picture of a high-powered attorney.

Fent retired from the city of Oklahoma City about 13 years ago, but he’s making a second career out of calling out state leaders.

“I believe in the constitution of Oklahoma and I think somebody should enforce it whenever it appears that it’s been violated by the legislature.”

He’s challenged dozens of bills, and he’s become such a name at the capitol that it even comes up during debate.

Representatives Mike Reynolds and Joe Dorman mentioned Fent while debating House Bill 2032, the bill Fent now challenges.

“This was in Jerry Fent vs. the Office of State Finance. Too bad he can’t sue the legislature he has to sue the Office of State Finance”

“I do have a little bit of hope I have in a guy by the name of Jerry Fent”

“We’ve bookmarked it for Mr. Fent”

Reynolds, an Oklahoma City Republican, met Fent about eight years ago and says unfortunately Oklahoma needs a person like Jerry Fent.

“It’s a real shame that legislators can’t read the rulings made by the court or can’t read the constitution clearly enough for themselves to avoid passing these kinds of ridiculous unconstitutional measures.”

There’s the case for noble defender of the constitution and even checks and balances, but what happens when the legislature has worked hard to pass a bill or even when the bill does something good?

Fent makes enemies.

Recently he successfully challenged a bill which took money from court costs and put it into the Department of Human Services for adoption fees and the Attorney General’s Victims Service Unit.

Fent says he’s sure the money was going to a noble cause, but it ran afoul of the constitution.

“I’m trying to enforce the constitution. If we don’t enforce that and you sit back and do nothing what other violation will they have on the constitution, due process, right to a bail?”

Journal Record reporter Scott Carter covers many of the cases Fent has taken to the highest court.

“He presents himself as the normal guy, the common guy and he’s really good at that and he talks to the justices. He tries to get them engaged in a conversation. He can be animated and there are times the courts push back when they disagree.”

But, Carter adds with Fent only doing this for the past 14 years there hasn’t always been a defender of the constitution.

“I remember times several years ago that a bill would come out and people, the talk on the streets would be I can’t believe how that made it through it’s obviously unconstitutional but no one challenged it.”

At least for now, Fent holds the lawmakers accountable on a pro bono basis, and the time it takes away from Ann, his wife of 50 years, doesn’t seem to affect his marriage.

“She’s encouraging. She says it’s better than me playing golf. If I played golf for a hobby that’s pretty expensive.”

A cancer survivor, Fent walks to the state treasurer’s office on two artificial knees and says he hopes to keep it up as long as possible.

He would also like to see others pick up the baton as champion of the state constitution.

“I hope somebody or numerous attorneys get involved in this and they can do it pro bono. You’re encouraged to do pro bono work along with your fee work.”

Fent believes every year 10% to 15% of the bills which make it through the legislature are unconstitutional, but he says he’s only one man and can’t get all of them.

 

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