JNC Chairman: Interviews for Opala's Seat on Oklahoma Supreme Court to Be Finished by Year's End

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Despite calls by Republican leaders in the Legislature to stop and wait, the Judicial Nominating Commission plans to finish interviews for an open seat on the Oklahoma Supreme Court by the end of the year.

On Wednesday, JNC Chairman Allen Smallwood said the commission would interview 14 of the 19 candidates who applied for the seat formerly held by Justice Marian Opala. Smallwood said the commission has eliminated five applicants and plans to interview all of the remaining ones in a single day.

"Those interviews are scheduled for Dec. 28," he said. "We're going to interview people and do it in one long day."

Smallwood said officials with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation have assured him that background checks on the remaining candidates would be ready about a week before the Dec. 28 interviews.

Should those deadlines hold, the JNC would be able to submit the names of its top three candidates to Gov. Brad Henry well before Henry's term expires Jan. 10. Henry would then have the chance to appoint an unprecedented sixth justice to the state's highest court.

Republicans, however, want the process slowed so Gov.-elect Mary Fallin could make the appointment.

Smallwood said the JNC would continue to work toward its end-of- the-year deadline.

"If we get the background information from the OSBI, then late in the day on Dec. 28 I expect we will deliver three names to the governor," Smallwood said.

Henry's office said the governor is monitoring the process.

"We still don't know whether there will be enough time to make the appointment," said Paul Sund, Henry's spokesman. "The JNC is working through the process as it always does, but whether it will be completed before January 10 is still unclear."

Henry said in November he would like the opportunity to appoint a sixth justice.

But Republican lawmakers are pushing Smallwood and the JNC to wait. Due to the passage of State Question 752 in November, two additional commissioners will be named by incoming Speaker of the House Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, and Senate President Pro Tem- designate Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa.

In a Nov. 24 press release, Bingman and Steele said the JNC should not proceed with its work until lawmakers made their appointments to the commission.

"Mr. Smallwood has made the case of why we must slow down," Steele said. "Until legislative leaders are eligible to make their appointments in January the Judicial Nominating Commission should not proceed. …

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