Lawyers for the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority filed a motion Friday to dismiss a qui tam lawsuit against the authority due to its ACCESS Oklahoma turnpike routes.
The qui tam lawsuit was filed in early January by Richard Labarthe, Alexey Tarasov and Stan Ward, who won an Open Meeting Act lawsuit against OTA in December.
Qui tam actions can be brought under a statute that allows for a private individual to sue for a penalty from the government or a public institution, according to the lawsuit.
The suit was filed against Tim Gatz, secretary of transportation and executive director of the OTA, Joe Echelle, OTA deputy director, members of the authority’s board of directors and several engineering firms including Poe & Associates.
The suit alleges that the ruling in the OMA case not only invalidated the votes at the OTA’s Jan. 25 and Feb. 22, 2022 meetings, but also the contracts granted. It also argues that the authority should’ve recovered the funds given to engineering firms — totaling over $42 million — as a result of the OMA ruling.
“The actions of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority … in awarding and making payments on contracts pursuant to the OTA’s meeting agenda items were unauthorized and contrary to law, which have resulted in gross injustice to (the) plaintiffs and a useless waste of public funds,” the lawsuit reads.
The OTA wrote in a statement to OU Daily that statutes used to file the qui tam litigation don’t apply to the authority because that kind of lawsuit is designed to target tax proceeds, and the OTA doesn’t receive money from taxpayers but from toll road profits.
Gatz said in the statement the authority aims to improve infrastructure that the Department of Transportation cannot afford through its taxpayer funds.
"That’s our job. Misguided efforts like this lawsuit are designed to waste time delaying critical enhancements for all Oklahomans,” Gatz said. “But at the same time, this process gives us the opportunity to clearly demonstrate that we are diligent in our mission and commitment to serving all Oklahomans.”
This article was edited by Alexia Aston, Karoline Leonard and Jazz Wolfe.
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