Oklahoma Politics: March 2008 Archives

Another step forward for the protection of unborn children in Oklahoma, thanks to Republican control of the State House and solid pro-life legislators like my friend Tulsa State Rep. Pam Peterson. Here's the press release from the Office of Speaker Chris Benge.

Omnibus Pro-Life Bill Passes House Committee

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 26, 2008) -Legislation further defending the unborn child passed the House Judiciary and Public Safety Committee today.

Senate Bill 1878, by Rep. Pam Peterson, combines several previously-passed pro-life measures into one bill. The legislation:

  • Protects health care professionals' freedom of conscience by affirming their right to refuse to participate in the taking of a human life.
  • Expands on pro-life legislation passed in 2006 that required abortion doctors to tell a woman she had a right to a free ultrasound at an off-site location. This legislation would provide an ultrasound at the clinic where the abortion would be performed.
  • Bans wrongful-life lawsuits that claim a baby would have been better off being aborted.
  • Ensures that a mother's consent to an abortion be truly voluntary and safeguards against coerced abortions. It requires posters to be placed in abortion clinics informing mothers of their rights and requires abortion clinics to verbally tell minors that having an abortion is their decision alone.
  • Regulates the use of the chemical abortion pill RU-486, which is used when the unborn child is about two months old.

This omnibus pro-life legislation will have the indirect effect of saving the lives of innocent children, Peterson said.

"This legislation is about giving mothers as much information as possible in advance about this irrevocable, life-altering decision. We must do all we can to ensure every woman has all the facts so she can make the most informed decision possible," said Peterson, R-Tulsa. "The bill also protects the integrity of medical professionals who do not wish to participate in performing abortions."

The bill passed the House committee today and will next be heard on the House floor.

The Republican head of the Oklahoma State Senate is planning a bill that would shovel statewide taxpayer dollars at the billionaire owners of the Seattle Supersonics, but don't expect to read about this in the Oklahoman or the Whirled.

Oklahoma State Senate Co-President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, said he'll sponsor a bill offering tax breaks if the team moves.

"I don't have the language yet, but we're working on it," Coffee said. "In general, there are some costs to relocating the Sonics to Oklahoma City."

Coffee said the incentive would likely resemble the state's Quality Jobs Act, which gives rebates to companies for creating jobs, and the cost would be recovered when the Sonics and their opponents pay income taxes for games played in Oklahoma.

Democratic Senate leader Mike Morgan of Stillwater and House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, have also been involved in discussions with Coffee. The lawmakers said the Sonics approached them about enacting the tax breaks.

Oklahoma City voters last month approved a temporary 1 cent sales tax to raise $121 million for upgrades to the Ford Center and construction of an NBA practice facility.

[Clay] Bennett's ownership group has not been asked to contribute any money toward that project. The team would receive most of the cash generated by the renovated arena under lease terms spelled out by Bennett in a 16-page letter of intent to Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. The city would pay the arena's operating expenses.

The Sonics would pay annual rent of $1.6 million for the arena, and $100,000 for the practice facility, increasing the payment with inflation. The city also would receive more than $400,000 a year for arena naming rights, with the team getting any cash above that when an expected new naming-rights deal is struck.

The Sonics could break the agreement after six years if ticket sales fall below certain benchmarks.

As an Oklahoma Republican who hoped that a Republican majority in the legislature would mean an end to a century of insider dealing at taxpayers expense, I'm embarrassed. First, there was Lance Cargill, and thankfully the House caucus forced him to resign as Speaker. Then there was Sen. Harry Coates (R-Seminole), opposing HB 1804 because of certain industries that depend on cheap illegal labor. Thankfully, he's in the minority on the issue. Now, Glenn Coffee, the man who would be the second-most influential politician in Oklahoma if the Republicans take over the State Senate for the first time ever, is saying that taxpayers all over Oklahoma need to foot the bill for massively wealthy Oklahomans to bring an NBA team to a market that serves less than a third of the state's population.

I found this story in the Seattle Times, and I learned about it by reading Field of Schemes, a blog about pro sports teams and how they manipulate local governments to fork over government money for private benefit.

I wonder why we aren't seeing coverage about this in Oklahoma. You don't suppose it's because the ownership group's head is married to a Gaylord, the family that owns the Oklahoman?

Jeff Shaw of Bounded Rationality called my attention to this: The Oklahoma Supreme Court has handed down decree yesterday that, effective immediately, will restrict online access to court records. The stated motive is to limit access to sensitive information that could be used in identity theft.

The decree forbids attorneys to cite certain personal identifiers in pleadings filed with the state court system -- e.g., addresses, SSNs, dates of birth. If this kind of information is essential to a pleading, it's to be provided separately and will be kept under seal. This part of the decree doesn't take effect for three months.

Section IV of the decree deals with online access. It takes immediate effect:

The Clerk of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, each district court clerk, and the Project Manager of the Oklahoma Court Information System are directed to immediately limit internet public access to court dockets only. The individual pleadings and other recorded documents filed of record in state court actions shall not be publicly displayed on the internet. Court documents may be viewed at the courthouse unless otherwise prohibited by law. This policy may be reviewed by this Court in the future.

This appears to mean that you will still be able to call up the docket for a case on OSCN and read through the case history -- when hearings were held, when documents were filed, the resolution of a case. For most of OSCN's history, that's all you would find on a district court case.

More recently, some filings were made available within a case's web page. For example, in researching my most recent UTW column, I was able to read a judge's ruling in a case by clicking a document link on the case's OSCN page. With this ruling, you will only be able to read those documents by going to the County Courthouse and requesting to read the file.

This decree doesn't really protect anyone's privacy. It simply allows convenient access to court records only to the attorneys who practice at a given courthouse; attorneys from other parts of the state or the country and members of the general public won't easily be able to access case information.

One of the other rationales for the change, mentioned in the dissent but not in the decree itself, is that until such information is available for all counties in Oklahoma, it shouldn't be available for any of them.

Open access to court records is essential to a fair and impartial justice system. Justice Yvonne Kauger wrote in her partial dissent:

The Court is obligated to provide the public with access to court records. The judiciary has long recognized that case file documents, unless sealed or otherwise restricted by statute or court rule, are available at the courthouse for public inspection.The common law right and the presumption of public access to court records relate to the public's right to monitor the functioning of our courts, thereby insuring quality, honesty, and respect for our legal system.

The dissent also notes the importance of electronic access to records to blogs and other forms of new media:

With the invention of each new method of conveying information, it becomes more difficult for the courts to seal and protect information without the individual cooperation of litigants and members of the Bar. Whether it is a development we welcome, the simple fact is that the tide of new media may not be ignored or dodged. Instead, we should make policy that contemplates this new reality. Given the public's increasing expectation of governmental transparency and its acclimation to the variety of new media, a strong philosophical distinction between documents available to the public at the courthouse and documents available to the public online becomes harder and harder to maintain. A blanket ban on posting copies of pleadings online, without consultation with the bench, the Bar, or the Legislature is a step too far, especially when in all likelihood we will lift this ban in the near future when we begin operating under a new case management system. If it is intellectually acceptable to post these documents for all counties, how can it be unacceptable to post them for some counties? The ban will not protect the court any further than the new redaction policy and its existing immunity. In fact, this temporary ban will do little more than have the undesirable effect of limiting the public's access to public information to which it has become accustomed ---- and creating a stir.

The worst thing about this policy is that it was handed down unilaterally, without opportunity for comment from members of the Bar, the Legislature, media (old or new), or the general public:

The Court made this decision with input only from the court clerks, others directly affected by the decision -- the bar, the bench, the legislature and the public were not consulted.... This public information which was previously available to the bench, bar, and litigants has been removed from viewing without any consideration for, or consultation with, lawyers and judges who use the information on a daily basis to do their jobs more efficiently or from public litigants attempting to seek legal redress.

I hope there will be enough outcry to reverse this decree, whether the Supreme Court does it or the Legislature does it for them.

UPDATE: Tyson Wynn has more:

In a day and age when we're moving to more and better online access to our government institutions, this step is unnecessary and unwise. Further, if the personal data has been ordered redacted, what is the harm in allowing court documents to be accessible online? Documents in the federal courts are almost all accessible online. Not all of Oklahoma's district courts post actual documents online, but they were advancing toward that end.

Oklahoma is internationally renowned! Here's a comment about the Eliot Spitzer scandal on Samizdata, a libertarian blog based in Britain (emphasis added):

Eliot Spitzer, one of the most nasty power crazed politicos in US politics today, perhaps second only to Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson in authoritarian thuggishness, has just shown that he who lives by the judicial sword, can oh so easily die by the judicial sword.

We're number one! We're number one!

The authoritarian thuggishness to which the writer refers? The threat of imprisonment hanging over the Oklahoma Three: Paul Jacob, Rick Carpenter, and Susan Johnson. From an earlier Samizdata entry by Dale Amon in Belfast:

I was rather surprised to discover that Oklahoma, of all places, is using State power not to just silence critics, but to send them to prison for up to ten years!

I simply never expected this sort of political repression to take hold in America. The Oklahoma government should simply be ashamed of the way they are sullying the American ideal.


The Oklahoma Bar Association is in the process of considering changes to the our state's Canons of Judicial Conduct. Although the subject is challenging for us laymen, the impartiality and independence of our judges is at the heart of the rule of law and the security of our life, liberty, and property.

The OBA committee conducting the review of the judicial conduct standards are being guided by the American Bar Association's model standards. Many Oklahoma attorneys are concerned that the new standards go too far in questioning a judge's outside involvements and associations.

Among many other problems, if adopted the revised canons would, without being reviewed or approved by our elected representatives, create a new protected class in Oklahoma -- sexual orientation -- which is not a protected class under Oklahoma law. Under the new canons, it's conceivable that a judge could be required to recuse himself from a case involving a homosexual litigant merely because the judge attends a church that takes a traditional Christian view of sexuality.

Saturday afternoon on 1170 KFAQ, during the 4 p.m. hour, constitutional attorney Leah Farish will be talking with host Bruce Delay about this issue, why it matters, and what we ordinary citizens need to do about it. Be sure to tune in.

Farish knows the ugly reality of judicial bias and has actually had a case reversed in her client's favor on grounds of the judge's bias. She believes that current remedies for bias are sufficient and that the new canons would cause scrupulous judges to withdraw from outside organizations and involvements, the kinds of interactions that keep a judge connected with the people they serve and grounded in the reality of the world shaped by their decisions.

UPDATE: Added a link to the proposed revision of the canons, provided in the comments by attorney Greg Bledsoe.

MORE: Here's the podcast from Bruce Delay's interview with Leah Farish.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Oklahoma Politics category from March 2008.

Oklahoma Politics: January 2008 is the previous archive.

Oklahoma Politics: April 2008 is the next archive.

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