OKLAHOMA CITY (Legal Newsline) -- Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, in an opinion released last week, said Gov. Mary Fallin's husband can continue to provide legal services for the University of Oklahoma and the state's workers' compensation agency.
Fallin's spouse, practicing attorney Wade Christensen, specializes in workers' compensation cases. He has represented OU for the past five years and CompSource Oklahoma for the past 17 years.
After Fallin assumed office in January, Christensen suspended his legal work for both OU and CompSource until a determination could be made whether his representation would violate Article X, Section 11 of the Oklahoma Constitution.
The provision serves to prohibit and avoid conflicts of interests.
Specifically, a state officer is prohibited from receiving "any interest, profit or perquisites arising from the use or loan of public funds in his hands or to be raised through his agency for the State."
However, because the monies of CompSource are not considered public funds, the prohibitions of Article X, Section 11 do not apply, Pruitt said Thursday.
"Both the Oklahoma Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals have determined that money in the State Insurance Fund -- also known as CompSource Oklahoma -- are not public funds," the attorney general wrote in his 12-page opinion.
Pruitt also noted that the prohibitions of Article X, Section 11 do not apply to all public funds. Rather, they apply only to the use or loan of public funds in the officer's hands or monies to be raised through the officer's agency.
In this case, because the public funds of OU are in neither Fallin's hands nor raised through her office, Article X, Section 11 does not prohibit the university from using its public funds to pay Christensen.
It is the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education that apportions monies, Pruitt said.
"Thus, even if the Governor's veto powers over appropriations could somehow generally be viewed as placing appropriated funds in the Governor's hands or being funds raised through her office, as we have seen, the Legislature makes no appropriations to the University of Oklahoma," he wrote.
"Rather, it is the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education that determines how much money from the lump-sum fund is allocated to the University of Oklahoma."
The attorney general noted that while Fallin appoints the members of that board -- subject to confirmation by the state Senate -- those members serve for a set term and do not serve at the governor's pleasure.
"Being appointed for set terms and only being removable for cause in the manner provided by law for officers not subject to impeachment, members of the State Regents for Higher Education are independent officers not subject to control by the Governor," Pruitt explained.
Despite the attorney general's favorable opinion, Christensen will not resume his work for OU and CompSource just yet, The Oklahoman reported.
A spokesman for Fallin's office said its legal staff first wants to review ethics rules and interpretations.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.