University of Oklahoma Political Science Professor Offers View on Judicial Rankings Skirmish

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The fight between business and industry groups and the Oklahoma Bar Association isn't just about voter information, but instead is the initial skirmish in a battle that could be called Tort Reform Version 2.0.

At least that's how one state political scientist sees it.

University of Oklahoma political science professor Keith Gaddie said the recent skirmish between the OBA and the State Chamber of Oklahoma is really a battle between two interest groups.

"Since we don't really elect judges, the least we get to do is throw them out," Gaddie said.

Gaddie said the chamber's announcement that it would evaluate judges on the state's appellate courts was an example of interest group politics.

"They are politicizing the hell out of the judiciary," he said. "They are challenging the ABA's authority."

Following its initial announcement of a new judicial ranking system, this week the Oklahoma Civil Justice Council, a chamber subsidiary, announced its evaluation of the Court of Civil Appeals.

The chamber, Gaddie said, is challenging the statutory authority of the ABA, another special-interest group, but one that has been given authority by the state.

Since it announced it would rank the judiciary, the chamber has drawn fire from the OBA.

The chamber said its ranking system analyzes cases that have an effect on the economic development and institutional life of the state.

"The Oklahoma Civil Justice Council has been created, in part, to examine the performance of Oklahoma's appellate courts," chamber CEO and President Fred Morgan said in a media statement. "It is vitally important for all Oklahomans to have information about how these cases - which often impact everyone in our state - are decided."

The judiciary, Morgan said, has a tremendous effect on everyone in the state.

"The spread of civil liability adversely affects our schools, nonprofit organizations and businesses," Morgan, a former Republican state representative, said. "Just as the State Chamber monitors and evaluates the activity of the Legislature, our members are very interested in receiving more information about how decisions of the judiciary impact them."

Oklahoma Bar Association President Cathy Christensen said voters do need information about how appellate judges performed, but it must be unbiased and neutral. …