Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Opala Taking Case to U.S. Supreme Court

By Francis-Smith, Janice | THE JOURNAL RECORD, August 24, 2006 | Go to article overview

Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Opala Taking Case to U.S. Supreme Court


Francis-Smith, Janice, THE JOURNAL RECORD


Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Marion Opala is taking his age- discrimination lawsuit against his fellow court justices all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In July, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Opala's case in a ruling that did not argue the merits of Opala's claims, but instead found that the federal court had no power to redress Opala's alleged injury. Opala's attorney, Stan Ward of the Norman- based firm of Ward and Glass LLP, announced Wednesday the case would continue on to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Because a three-judge panel of the U.S. appeals court in Denver ruled recently that Justice Opala's constitution-based grievance may not be addressed by the federal court in which he asked for legal relief, we must now seek review of that decision in the U.S. Supreme Court," reads a prepared statement. Ward did not respond to request for an interview on Wednesday afternoon.

Opala, who has served on the Oklahoma Supreme Court since 1978, filed a lawsuit in federal district court shortly after his fellow justices revised their internal operating rules in November 2004. For decades previous to the rule change, justices with more than six years of experience had each taken their turn as chief justice, serving a two-year term in the post. No chief justice had ever held successive terms, and it was customary for the person who held the position of vice chief justice to next be voted as chief justice. Opala last served as chief justice from 1991 to 1992.

However, in November the other eight justices serving on the Oklahoma Supreme Court voted to change their rules to allow the current Chief Justice Joseph M. Watt to serve a second term, succeeding himself. Opala, who was 83 at the time and serving as vice chief justice, charged that the change was motivated by age discrimination and the new rule is unconstitutional.

Opala is the oldest member of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, though he is only two years older than the second-oldest member, Justice Rudolph Hargrave. The youngest member of the court at the time was 52 years old. …

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