Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Marian Opala has died.
Opala, who had served on the state court since 1978, died early
Monday morning, said Mike Mayberry, deputy director of the
Administrative Office of the Courts.
Mayberry said Opala died at Integris Baptist Medical Center in
Oklahoma City at 1:23 a.m. Monday. Mayberry said Opala was found
unconscious at his Warr Acres home Saturday evening and was taken by
ambulance to the hospital.
"The diagnosis was that he suffered a significant stroke,"
Mayberry said. "He underwent surgery early Sunday morning."
Friends of the 89-year-old justice said Opala was in good spirits
late last week.
"I had dinner with him late Friday and he said he'd never felt
better," said Oklahoma County Assessor Leonard Sullivan. "When my
wife told me he'd died of a stroke, I was shocked. He seemed just
Known for his wit and scholarship, Opala was often the lone
dissent on the state's highest court. In 2005, Opala filed suit
against his fellow justices after the group voted to bypass him as
chief justice of the court.
For several years, Oklahoma Supreme Court justices with more than
six years' experience have each taken their turn as chief justice,
serving a two-year term in the top post. However, in November of
2005 the court's other eight justices changed the rules to allow
Justice Joseph M. Watt to serve a second consecutive term as chief
justice, succeeding himself.
Opala, who was 83 at the time, would have been the next to serve
as chief justice under the rotation. He filed a lawsuit in federal
district court, charging that his fellow justices discriminated
against him based on his age.
"I sued to establish a constitutional principle," Opala told The
Journal Record in 2005. "There's no evil or unethical ingredient in
a lawyer wanting to establish a constitutional principle. No one in
total control of one's faculties would accuse a lawyer of being
unethical for wanting to establish a constitutional principle, do
Opala lost the lawsuit after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to
hear the case.
He was appointed to the court in 1978 by then-Gov. David Boren.
Born in Lodz, Poland, in 1921, Opala immigrated to the United
States, becoming a citizen in 1953. He graduated from Oklahoma City
University's School of Law that same year, and earned a degree in
economics from OCU in 1957. He earned a master of laws degree from
New York University in 1968.
Opala held the court's District 3 seat. He served as chief
justice of the court from 1991 to 1992.
State leaders praised Opala, calling him a professional and
"With the passing of Justice Marian Opala, Oklahoma has lost a
judicial giant," Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry said in a media statement.
"During his many decades of service to this state, Justice Opala was
always a consummate professional and a dedicated jurist. With his
hard work, legal expertise and passion for the law and public
service, Marian Opala helped make Oklahoma a far better place than
it was when he first arrived here as an immigrant many years ago."
Oklahomans, the governor said, will miss the justice.
"We are saddened by Justice Opala's passing and will miss him
very much, but we will never forget his lifetime of service or his
love of this great state. …