Judge Criticizes Proposed Merit Overhaul in Oklahoma

Chief Judge Jerry Goodman of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals denounces in a Tulsa World commentary a proposal advancing in the legislature to overhaul the state’s merit selection system for picking appellate judges.

The proposal, recently passed by the state House, would give control of the system to the governor and legislative leaders, according to an analysis by Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts (see Gavel Grab).  Goodman writes about it, while alluding to leaders who developed the state’s merit selection model earlier in response to a scandal:

“Obviously, the Legislature becomes an integral part of picking judges and those picked will inevitably reflect the social, cultural and political biases of that body in order to be approved. This is exactly the result those ‘wise men who went before us’ sought to avoid.

“Do we want politicians resolving our contract disputes, determining negligence in a car accident, or deciding child custody in a divorce case, or do we want qualified persons dedicated to the rule of law, who are qualified because they have been vetted and determined to have the competence, character and temperament to apply that rule of law fairly, equally and independently of the litigants’ politics?”

He also takes issue with calls for Oklahoma to switch to contested elections of its top judges, saying this would make a judge’s most important qualifications the ability to raise campaign cash, to retain the right political consultant, and to run a crowd-pleasing campaign while trashing a foe with ads unrelated to true judicial qualifications.

At KFOR, meanwhile, a news article about the ongoing debate is  headlined, “‘That’s not good for Oklahomans,’ Heated debate continues over how judges should be elected.”