A judge in Oklahoma Fined the company that manages EPIC virtual charter school $500,000 for trying to suppress the fre speech of a critic, plus his legal fees.

Unfortunately, despite poor results and ongoing legal controversies, enrollment at EPIC and other virtual charter schools is soaring due to the pandemic.

An Oklahoma County district judge leveled a $500,000 fine against the nonprofit overseeing Epic Charter Schools on Wednesday.

Judge Cindy Troung sanctioned Community Strategies Inc. for filing a libel and slander lawsuit against state Sen. Ron Sharp last year. Truong dismissed the lawsuit in February. On Wednesday, she ruled the case was an attempt to censor Sharp’s free speech.

The judge decided the nonprofit was subject to a fine under Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act, a law that sanctions plaintiffs who file meritless lawsuits intended to silence critics.

Troung also awarded Sharp $35,912 to cover all of his legal fees. A news release from Sharp said the senator is “very pleased” with the judge’s decision.

Epic will appeal the ruling, said Shelly Hickman, assistant superintendent of communications…

Sharp, R-Shawnee, has been one of Epic’s most outspoken critics. In multiple news releases and comments to media, he alleged Epic unlawfully counted student enrollment and misused taxpayer dollars.

Truong threw out the lawsuit and said Sharp’s public comments about Epic did not rise to the level of actual malice, which is the standard to prove libel and slander against a public entity.

“Clearly, Epic was trying to do this to destroy my credibility and to divert attention from what I was asking,” Sharp said after the lawsuit was dismissed in February. “The fact that they filed this just before the deadline for legislation, they clearly wanted legislators to be intimidated by this lawsuit.”

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation alleged Epic illegally inflated its enrollment counts and embezzled millions in state funds, according to court documents filed last year. Epic has denied any wrongdoing. No charges have been filed.