Oklahoma Election 2014: judicial retention ballot

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Three justices of the State Supreme Court (Reif, Colbert, Watt), one justice of the Court of Criminal Appeals (Lumpkin), and five justices of the Court of Civil Appeals (Goodman, Wiseman, Barnes, Rapp, Goree) will be on Tuesday's ballot.

Oklahoma has a two-path appellate system: Criminal cases are appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals, which has the final word. Civil cases are appealed to the State Supreme Court, which may and usually does assign cases to the Court of Civil Appeals. Since 1967, judges in the appellate system have been appointed by the governor from choices presented by a panel dominated by a private club, the Oklahoma Bar Association. A newly appointed justice or appellate judge faces a retention ballot at the next general election and, if retained, every six years thereafter. Voters do not choose between candidates for these offices; each judge or justice faces a YES or NO vote. If the NO votes outnumber the YES votes, that judge is removed from office, creating a vacancy which is filled by the usual process.

I plan to vote YES on only one judicial retention: Court of Civil Appeals Judge Brian Goree, appointed by Gov. Fallin. Conservative blogger and attorney Don Danz wrote a tribute to Judge Goree at his swearing-in:

A former coworker, shooting buddy and good friend was sworn in as a judge today at the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In August, Gov. Mary Fallin appointed Brian Goree to the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals. Everyone who knows Brian would attest to the fact that he is the most honest, ethical, moral and hard working person we know. He will be an outstanding and absolutely unbiased addition to the Oklahoma judiciary.

I urge every Oklahoman to vote NO on Court of Civil Appeals Judge Jane Wiseman. As a district judge in 2003, Wiseman demonstrated partiality toward the rich and powerful by approving the unconstitutional logrolling in the Vision 2025 ballot. Her 2003 decision ignored her own reasoning eight years earlier when she rightly discarded a sales tax proposal for the new county jail because it included funds for early intervention programs on the same ballot item as funds for the jail's construction and operation.

Earlier this month, we saw Judge Wiseman officiate over the first "legal" "same-sex wedding" in Oklahoma, showing her solidarity not with the people who voted overwhelmingly to uphold the only definition of marriage that makes sense, but instead with the leftist fascists who seek to impose their morality on every state. Wiseman demonstrated her support for judges legislating from the bench, for seeing the voters of Oklahoma as subjects to be subdued, not a sovereign, self-governing people.

There have been too many examples of judicial overreach and incoherence from Oklahoma's appellate courts.

In July, a majority of the Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld State Rep. Sydney Fred Jordan's eligibility to be elected District Attorney. Their one-paragraph decision failed to address the legal questions raised by the briefs filed on behalf of Jordan and his opponent Steve Kunzweiler. The heart of the matter was when a state representative's term ends and when a district attorney is considered elected. The majority decision didn't speak to the language of the constitutional provision, Article V, Section 23, at question, or address the claim that Gragg v. Dudley applied to the District Attorney's office. Only Justice Taylor, in his dissent, wrestled with the substantive matters of interpretation raised by the case. The five justices who concurred in the seemingly tossed-off decision -- Kauger, Watt (up for retention), Winchester, Edmondson, and Gurich -- should be deeply embarrassed. Reif, who is on this year's retention ballot, recused himself. Colbert and Combs did not participate. On the strength of this decision alone, I will vote NO on Watt.

State Rep. David Derby reports that the Supreme Court's chief justice, Tom Colbert, came to the state capital to lobby against Derby's proposed reforms to the state's DUI laws. Derby was trying to move DUI charges into District Court so that they would be handled in a court of record, rather than municipal court. He cited one example where a driver had around two dozen DUIs, but because they were handled in municipal court, they failed to trigger a driver's license suspension. According to Derby, Colbert personally lobbied against the bill, which failed to advance.

A series of decisions earlier this year clinch the case against the three justices on the ballot. A split Supreme Court voted 5-4 to issue a stay of execution for brutal murderers Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner over disclosure of the drugs to be used in their lethal injection executions, despite our state constitution giving final jurisdiction over such issues to the Court of Criminal Appeals. The three justices up for retention this year -- Colbert, Reif, Watt -- were in the narrow majority along with Kauger and Combs. Taylor, Edmondson, Winchester, and Gurich dissented. In each of six decisions in the case, Taylor chided his colleagues, describing the majority as "crossing the Rubicon" and putting the Supreme Court in a matter where it has no constitutional authority, and thereby producing a "quagmire."

Of the substance of the murderers' appeal, Taylor wrote:

It is my view that from the very beginning this so called "civil" litigation has been frivolous and a complete waste of time and resources of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma. The plaintiffs have no more right to the information they requested than if they were being executed in the electric chair, they would have no right to know whether OG&E or PSO were providing the electricity; if they were being hanged, they would have no right to know whether it be by cotton or nylon rope; or if they were being executed by firing squad, they would have no right to know whether it be by Winchester or Remington ammunition. I hope that this case ends any thought of future journeys down this path that has led this Court to this day. It is also my hope that this Court never again crosses the Rubicon.

If voters get rid of the three justices on the wrong side of this issue, perhaps we can get a few more justices like Steven Taylor. (Taylor is next up for retention in 2016. It should be noted, however, that Taylor was on the wrong side of the TABOR petition, voting to toss it out without a hearing.)

Oklahomans for Life has called for reform of the judicial selection process because our own courts have thwarted legislative and initiative efforts to pass pro-life legislation. Effectively, these judges have blocked Oklahomans from advancing a law that might provide the occasion for the Federal Courts to reconsider and possibly reverse Roe v. Wade.

When in doubt, vote them out. A Fallin appointment is likelier to be committed to judicial restraint than holdover appointees of Democratic governors Brad Henry and David Walters. The removal of an appellate judge by the voters would also send a message to other justices that voters are paying attention to their decisions.

A few hundred years ago, Voltaire commented on the execution of a British admiral, executed on the deck of his own ship for a failure to do his utmost. "Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres." ("In this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time so to encourage the others.")

In Oklahoma, it is wise to fire an appellate judge from time to time so as to "encourage the others" to do justice and respect the will of the people they are sworn to serve.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 29, 2014 11:38 PM.

Oklahoma Election 2014: FOR State Questions 769, 770, 771 was the previous entry in this blog.

Oklahoma House District 12: Vote against National Popular Vote is the next entry in this blog.

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