Recommendations of the Task Force on Judicial Selection Due Dec. 1

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Members of the Task Force on Judicial Selection must have some recommendations ready by Dec. 1 to allow time for drafting legislation before the deadline for consideration during the next session, according to Frederick attorney Anthony Massad, who chairs the panel.

The former state senator and past president of the Oklahoma Bar Association, who currently chairs the Council on Judicial Complaints, said legislative staff have told him of the short time left to complete their work on the election-appointment issue. In a meeting last week, Oklahoma State University professor Robert Darcy presented a list of draft proposals prepared by him and Stillwater attorney William James Baker in an effort to give direction to the task force. The recommendations are to:

* Adopt written criteria by which the judicial nominating commission evaluates applicants for judicial positions.

* Invite the Oklahoma Bar Association to revisit their procedures for selecting bar members for the judicial nominating commission, with the goal of having bar representatives more resemble the diversity of the state.

* Select all judges through a nominating commission and gubernatorial appointment, with retention through a vote of the people in a retention election. As an alternative, judges on the Workers Compensation Court could be placed on the judicial retention ballot.

* Create or maintain, wherever possible and practical, minority- majority sub-districts from which judicial vacancies are filled.

* Fund a Judicial Evaluation Commission through the Supreme Court budget and give it statutory authority to evaluate candidates on the judicial retention ballot.

Former Oklahoma County District Judge Bill Burkett, who was defeated in the last election, said he supports the current appointment process for judges. "No system's going to be good," he said. "I just think it's better."

He said it is essential that those best qualified be named district judges, who must follow the law without being concerned about public opinion. "It's just not the way it should be run," he said of the possibility of issuing rulings with an eye toward staying in office.

Ben Blackstock, formerly with the Oklahoma Press Association, noted that Oklahoma County District Attorney Robert Macy bought newspaper advertisements supporting a slate of his employees for district court positions in that election and made certain allegations against Burkett.

The former judge said Macy made allegations that were not based on fact. "I'm not surprised that Macy campaigned against me and I wouldn't have minded if (the allegations) were true," Burkett said. "I would be happy if the Code of Judicial Conduct applied and if there were penalties for false statements."

Every time a district judge rules on a case, he said, he makes someone angry, "or at least disgruntled."

Blackstock said there has been talking about tampering with the judicial selection process. He asked if there is anything that can be done to ensure that applicants do not try to influence the Judicial Nominating Committee or governor. …

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