Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Keating Names James Winchester to Supreme Court

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Keating Names James Winchester to Supreme Court

Article excerpt

Gov. Frank Keating Tuesday named federal administrative law judge James Winchester to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Currently an administrative law judge with the U.S. Social Security Administration, Winchester succeeds Justice Alma Wilson, who died last year.

Keating said that choosing Wilson's replacement was a tough decision.

"James Winchester has an impressive legal background, serving on the bench at both the state and federal level," the governor said. "He will bring sound judgment and a wealth of relevant experience to the Oklahoma Supreme Court."

Winchester was named to District 5, which includes Carter, Cleveland, Garvin, Grady, Jefferson, Love, McClain and Stephens counties.

Before being selected as an administrative law judge, Winchester served as district judge in Grady and Caddo counties from 1983 to 1997. From 1979 to 1983 he was in private practice in Hinton.

A Clinton native, Winchester is married to Rep. Susan Winchester, R-Chickasha. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1974 and a juris doctorate degree from the Oklahoma City University Law School in 1977.

Winchester's appointment brings the high court up to a full complement of nine justices. In October, Keating named former appellate judge Daniel J. Boudreau of Tulsa to the court. Boudreau's appointment, Keating's first opportunity to name a justice, filled a vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Robert D. Simms.

Keating said that Winchester was one of 16 candidates who applied for the open position on the court. The Judicial Nominating Commission forwarded to the governor the names of Winchester, Court of Appeals Judge Glenn Adams and District Judge William Hetherington.

"It was a very tough decision, because all three are outstanding individuals," said the governor. "I chose Judge Winchester because he of the three will, I think, best represent the people of Oklahoma as a strict constructionist and as a conservative on the court."

Keating was asked whether the finalists for the justice slot included any minorities.

"No," he replied. "I don't know about the 16, because only the three get to me, and all three -- Judge Adams, Judge Hetherington and Judge Winchester -- were all three long-term Oklahoma judicial officers."

Asked whether Rep. Winchester's office came into play in the appointment, the governor said it did, but negatively.

"As a matter of fact, it made it much more difficult for him to be selected," Keating said. "He had to do far better in the interviews than the others. It took us a month and a half of interviews and re-interviews, examination of legal writing and interviews with members of the small business and legal community to make the decision. But because his wife is a distinguished member of the House, it was more of a challenge for him, but he made it to the top, and I think he'll be a splendid judge."

Keating said that he does not believe having a spouse in the Legislature necessarily opens the door to conflicts of interest. He pointed out, for example, that Bob Blackburn, husband of Rep. Debbie Blackburn, D-Oklahoma City, is executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, and Carolyn Thompson Taylor, wife of Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore, is in higher education.

"I think that as long as those individuals are selected on the basis of merit and not because they are related to someone, there should be no criticism," Keating said. "I think we Oklahomans -- and I say that as a Republican and I mention two Democrats -- are fortunate to have people of high talent who are willing to serve in public life. In the case of Judge Winchester, it was an ice cliff for him to climb because I was uncomfortable with the fact that his wife was in the Legislature."

The governor was reminded that, especially in recent years, there have been several disputes between the legislative and executive branches that have landed before the Supreme Court. …

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