We should remember that our current system of judicial retention was adopted by Oklahomans in response to attorney bribery scandals involving the state Supreme Court. Oklahomans overwhelmingly voted to restore the integrity of the court through accountability by judicial retention elections.
Since then, no justice or judge up for retention has been defeated, despite countless voters going to the polls and blindly voting “yes” without any information to better guide their decision.
For decades, lawyers have completely dominated the judicial selection and election process. This year, the State Chamber-sponsored Oklahoma Civil Justice Council (OCJC) published a review of cases decided by the Supreme Court and Civil Court of Appeals and asked a simple question: “Does this case expand civil liability for Oklahoma’s citizens, and if so, did the judges’ ruling on the exact same case differ in their interpretation of the law?” This is similarly done in many other states.
OCJC gathered the information and posted it on our website for voters. This was an informational campaign that did not urge Oklahomans to vote one way or the other. Threatened by these efforts, trial lawyers raised more than $400,000 in a mere three weeks to fund an aggressive campaign to “Vote Yes for Fair and Impartial Judges.”
We agree we want fair and impartial judges, but attorneys, who have had cases before these same judges and justices, raising money to keep these judges on the bench — is that the type of accountability Oklahomans voted for in 1967?
A democracy only functions properly when the electorate is well informed.
In fact, the Oklahoma Bar Association, in response to OCJC, for the first time started its own judicial website to provide more information to the public. It is time for every voter, not just trial lawyers, to have knowledge of the actions of our highest courts.
It is important to note that it is the lawyers crying foul, not judges or justices. Supreme Court Justice James Edmondson commented on the OCJC rankings: “It’s a good idea to get information out there for the citizenry, especially for the people who plan on voting. It’s a well-presented and well-balanced exposition of the matters that seem to be of concern to them and probably many others.”
It benefits no one but trial lawyers who have historically dominated judicial selection and elections to keep the voting public in the dark.
—Fred Morgan, Oklahoma City
Morgan is president and CEO of the State Chamber of Oklahoma.