Judging the judge's judger

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Since my column came out on Wednesday, I've had several phone calls and e-mails from friends and even from a sitting judge politely taking issue with my picks in the district judge races.

It's interesting that I have yet to hear any dissent to my call to vote against retention of all the Supreme Court justices except Marian Opala and against Civil Appeals Court judge Jane Wiseman, on grounds of partiality. I certainly felt more confident in making that case, and that's why it formed the bulk of my column. In Wiseman's case, I had read the court documents from the 1995 jail election case and the 2003 Vision 2025 election case, and it was apparent that in the latter case, Wiseman deliberately ignored the law. The TABOR petition case was simple -- the proponents were simply not given the chance to argue their case to the Supreme Court.

In the district judge cases, I've had to rely on the testimony of attorneys I know and trust who have worked with, argued against, or argued in front of the candidates. I've also taken note of the endorsers in each race. In some races, there are people I know and trust on both sides of a race. Because of my involvement in the local Republican Party, the anti-recall and anti-at-large councilor campaigns, Tulsa Now, and urban planning and zoning issues, I have a pretty diverse group of friends and allies who have my phone number and wouldn't (and shouldn't) hesitate to share an opinion with me.

It's worth noting, then, that no one has called to argue against my support for Deirdre Dexter for Office 10, my support for incumbent Tom Thornbrugh for Office 8, or my support for Cliff Smith for Office 1.

While I am supporting Jim Caputo for Office 4, I see a number of friends on the endorsement list for his opponent, Daman Cantrell. Office 4 is one of five judgeships elected by district, rather than at-large in Tulsa and Pawnee Counties. Whatever Cantrell's good points, he rented an apartment in the district the week of filing in order to get on the ballot. There was a protest of his candidacy on the grounds that he hadn't lived in the district long enough to qualify to run, but to my amazement the State Election Board let him stay on the ballot. Even if he is within the letter of the law, Cantrell's actions violate the spirit of the law, which is intended to promote geographical diversity on the bench.

A friend e-mailed to express disappointment with my decision to vote for Jonathan Sutton over incumbent Judge Deborah Shallcross. He had been on the opposite side of several cases with Sutton and thinks he would be "a disaster." I don't believe my friend's concerns are sour grapes. Those who support Sutton speak of him as a hard worker, borne out by the way he put himself through law school:

A week into law school, Jonathan had the opportunity to switch shifts at UPS from that of driver supervisor to supervising loading and started working from 2:00 am until noon. During law school Jonathan's usual schedule was to work at UPS from 2:00 A.M. till noon. He later started a part-time job working at the office of the Tulsa County District Attorney from 1:00 P.M. to 5:00 P. M. After working 12 hours, he would attend law classes from 5:30 P.M. to 9:00 P.M. During the last two years of law school, Jonathan worked at the UPS airport operation, running one of two shifts. Jonathan kept that grueling schedule Monday through Friday. On the weekends, he would read, study and prepare for the week ahead.

On the other hand, the case that has been made to me against Shallcross is that she has been frequently absent from the bench, that her recent docket reassignment was a censure in all but name for that absenteeism, and that, in her oversight of the family and domestic docket, she has promoted judges who take what I'll call a Lifetime Network view of men.

This may be some indication of Shallcross' ideological leanings. Through a web search, I learned that in 1991 Shallcross won a Newsmaker Award from the Tulsa Chapter of the Association of Women in Communications. While there are plenty of women on that list who have contributed positively to the Tulsa community, you will search in vain for an identifiable conservative Republican, although there are plenty of Democratic officeholders and activists listed. Anita Hill, famous for her public trashing of Supreme Court Clarence Thomas' reputation, was one of the award winners for 1992. Winners must be "philosophically compatible with the goals of AWC."

Yesterday I got a call from Associate District Judge Caroline Wall, who told me she had stopped by the Urban Tulsa Weekly offices hoping to talk with me about what I wrote about her in my column. She objected that I didn't interview her before writing the column. (I didn't interview her opponent, Dana Kuehn, either.) She had specific things to say about the Tulsa World articles, displayed on Kuehn's website, about controversial cases handled by Wall. I hesitate to convey what Wall said, as I wasn't able to take notes, and I don't want to misrepresent what she said. What she should do is post an explanation/rebuttal to each of those cases on her own website.

Ideally, attorneys would be willing to identify in public specific examples of good or bad judgment on the part of each candidate, and we could dig out the case files and argue the pros and cons. But there's a fear of violating the canons of judicial conduct (despite the U. S. Supreme Court ruling that invalidated similar rules in Minnesota), and attorneys reasonably worry about offending a candidate before whom they may one day argue a case.

Some may argue that the lack of solid information is why we need to go to an appointive system for all judges. I’m grateful that Oklahoma’s constitution gives the voters the opportunity to hold judges accountable. If nothing else, the election process requires judges to knock on doors and march in parades, reacquainting them with the people they are sworn to serve. All elected officials need an occasional booster shot of humility, an inoculation against arrogance; a judge, who is the king of his courtroom, has an even greater need to get knocked down a peg or two from time to time.

If we no longer had judicial elections, the politics would not go away, they would just go further behind closed doors.

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» My election day cheat sheet from BatesLine

For my own reference (and yours as well, if you like), a little cheat sheet to help me keep all the races straight. The front side of the ballot varies from precinct to precinct. If you live in Tulsa County, this page has links to an image of each prec... Read More

4 Comments

Second Amendment said:

Until such time that the rich and powerful's money is no longer involved in politics - it is an ethical challenge to trust any elected officials.

Every elected official should be required to campaign with a pre set amount of maximum funds depending upon the position they are running for. Contributions should be anonymous. They should each be given an equal amount of public air time to spread their ideas. There should no longer be a party system - too many issues cross party lines.

Most important - One vote = One American.

Judy Strickland said:

I live in Creek Co and can not find any info on the judges here good or bad? Do you know where I can find any info? I plan to vote straight Republican party on candidates and your info on the SQ questions were very helpful.
Thanks

Judy, there's only one judge race on the Creek County ballot: Douglas W. Golden of 222 E. Dewey #300, Sapulpa, a 55 year old Democrat, vs. Dale Ray Gardner of 7401 Loch Ness Circle, Tulsa, a 60 year old Democrat. I think the relevant question for any Creek County candidate is, "Do you keep anything under your desk that makes a swooshing sound?"

Second Amendment said:

The funny thing is - the traditional Democrat of days gone by were more like conservative Republicans. Democrats didn't always use to have such a massive buncha liberal wackos in the party.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 4, 2006 2:54 PM.

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