Oklahoma's Health Lawyer Received Threatening Emails Over Medical Marijuana. Turns Out, They Were From Herself, and That's Illegal.
By Nolan Clay
The former top lawyer at the Oklahoma Health Department was accused Tuesday in a criminal charge of sending threatening emails to herself in an attention-seeking ploy.
Julie Ezell, 37, of Edmond, resigned as general counsel Friday, shortly after confessing, according to an investigator's affidavit.
"I am so sorry," she wrote in the resignation email to Tom Bates, interim commissioner of the Health Department.
She posed in the emails as a medical marijuana advocate who threatened retribution if the Health Department imposed restrictive rules on its use. "We would hate to hurt a pretty lady. You will hear us," one email said.
Ezell is charged in Oklahoma County District Court with two felonies and a misdemeanor.
Her attorney called her a loyal and dedicated public servant who has worked her entire career as a lawyer.
"These charges do not reflect who she is as a person, nor do they reflect the type of advocate she has been for the people of the State of Oklahoma," defense attorney Ed Blau said. "These allegations will be answered, and additional relevant information will be provided by us at the appropriate time."
She confessed after the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation analyzed her cellphone and determined it was used to create the fake email account, MaryJame@protonmail.com, according to the affidavit.
ProtonMail is an encrypted email service started in 2014.
"Ezell confessed to making the MaryJame@protonmail.com email account and sending the threats to her government email," an OSBI special agent wrote in the affidavit.
"She acted alone and nobody else knew she was composing the emails and sending them to herself," the agent wrote. "She forwarded the threats to commissioned law enforcement officers with the Oklahoma Department of Health and continued to falsely report events to OSBI agents during the course of the investigation."
In a news release Tuesday, the OSBI said, "Some emails implied physical harm to Ezell while others indicated the sender knew personal things about Ezell."
She sent the first email -- titled "marijuana laws" -- around 2:15 a.m. July 8, two days before the Board of Health met to consider the new rules on medical marijuana, the investigation found.
That email stated "they could show up in force to stop it if the government thought they could take rights away and erase the laws," the OSBI agent reported.
Using incorrect grammar, that email also stated, "We will stop YOU and you're greed. Any way it takes to end your evil and protect what is ours. We will watch you."
After receiving that email, she then sent a text from her cellphone at 2:24 a.m. July 8, according to the OSBI. Starting with an expletive, she wrote: "text me when you are up. I just got a pretty threatening email about medical marijuana."
After sending herself a second threatening email July 8, she texted: "another one."
Investigators have not disclosed who received her texts.
She sent a third fake email July 10 before the state Board of Health met on the medical marijuana rules. It stated, "you won't be able to ignore us today. Check yourself," according to the OSBI.
She sent a fourth fake email July 10 shortly after the board met. It contained her home address and descriptions of vehicles she drove. She sent a fifth email that night that stated: "You impose laws like a dictator and respect none of them."
She also sent fake emails July 11 and 12.
She faces one felony count accusing her of a computer crime for creating the fictitious email account. She faces a second felony count accusing her of preparing false evidence.
She faces a misdemeanor count of falsely reporting a crime.
She turned herself in at the Oklahoma County jail on Tuesday night.
She has been an attorney for almost 12 years, mostly in state government. She also has worked for the Oklahoma Tax Commission, Commissioners of the Land Office, the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office and the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System.
Her resignation throws the state Health Department into more legal uncertainty after massive shake-ups at the highest levels of the agency in the past year. She was hired last November in the wake of a finance scandal that toppled the agency's senior leadership.
Then-interim Health Commissioner Preston Doerflinger said her hiring would help lead the department into its next phase.
Voters approved medical marijuana in June and the Health Department is the agency that will regulate its use.
Most of the medical marijuana rules were written by Health Department staff, including Ezell. At the last minute, however, board members adopted amendments that proved controversial.
Board members narrowly voted to ban smokable forms of marijuana and also some edibles that could be confused as candy. They also said retail dispensaries would have to hire a pharmacist at each location.
Ezell warned against adopting those amendments, saying that doing so might be exceeding the board's authority to regulate the industry. Instead of taking her advice, the board adopted the amendments and sent the rules package on to Gov. Mary Fallin, for her approval.
So far, two lawsuits have been filed challenging the new rules.
Contributing: Staff Writers Meg Wingerter and Randy Ellis
(c)2018 The Oklahoman