OKLAHOMA CITY – Attorney General Mike Hunter today appointed Melissa McLawhorn Houston as a special counsel to the Attorney General’s Office to review the state auditor and inspector’s audit of Epic Charter Schools.
The appointment of a special counsel comes as the attorney general has recused himself and much of his office from further review of the audit. The attorney general deemed this move necessary as various members of the Attorney General’s Office have been or remain involved in several investigations into Epic and their continued role in the ongoing litigation into Epic’s financial records. The office also serves as counsel to the Virtual Charter School Board.
From his office, the attorney general has appointed Senior Deputy Attorney General Joy Thorp as the chief liaison from the office to work with Houston in reviewing the audit. Thorp heads the Criminal Justice Unit.
“Working with our Criminal Justice Unit, Melissa will bring a thoughtful and objective review to the audit and findings by the state auditor,” Attorney General Hunter said. “Melissa’s experience as an attorney in state government is unmatched. She has served in a variety of roles, including secretary of education and workforce development, labor commissioner, chief of staff in the state Office of Homeland Security, as well as a wide variety of other agency policy operations. With assistance and resources provided from my office, she will conduct an extensive review of the auditor’s findings and make recommendations based on the rule of law. I appreciate her willingness to step up and help us in this vital role.”
Houston has more than two decades of experience as an attorney in public policy development and implementation in state government. She has served in a variety of roles, including Oklahoma Labor Commissioner, Secretary for Education and Workforce Development, and previously as Chief of Staff for the Oklahoma Attorney General.
“I appreciate Attorney General Hunter’s confidence in me to lead the review of this audit,” Houston said. “There has been much scrutiny and inquiry surrounding Epic Charter Schools for many years. Oklahomans deserve a fair and unbiased look at the findings, and that is exactly what I am prepared to give them.”
In view of the continued multiagency and state investigation of Epic, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater has agreed to allow the Attorney General’s Office to assume control of examining the audit and any other allegations surrounding the charter school and make decisions as to appropriate legal action.
Thorp is a senior deputy attorney general, who leads the Criminal Justice Unit. She and her team handle complex cases including cold cases, murders and public corruption. She also manages the Tulsa office and oversees the state’s multicounty grand jury.
Beginning her career in 2002, Thorp has served in both public and private legal practice. She is a former assistant district attorney in Tulsa County. Thorp was also previously a prosecutor and assistant district attorney in District 27, which includes Adair, Cherokee, Sequoyah and Wagoner Counties, where she also served as the managing attorney for the Wagoner County District Attorney. She most previously worked in the civil division for U.S. Attorney Trent Shores.
Throughout her career, she has been the lead prosecutor on hundreds of felony and misdemeanor cases.
Melissa McLawhorn Houston