Tide Turning against Judicial Elections
Jenkins, Ron, THE JOURNAL RECORD
The chairman of the state House Judiciary Committee wants voters to fill vacant district judgeships, but sentiment is growing to scrap judicial elections altogether.
A special task force has set a Dec. 1 deadline for making recommendations to the Legislature on changing the current system of picking state judges. So far, testimony at task force meetings has been weighted toward appointing district judges instead of electing them. "I'm bitterly opposed to the election of judges," commented task force Chairman Tony Massad, a former state senator, at one meeting.
Many attorneys feel politics can be demeaning to the judicial system, putting judges in the awkward position of trying to be independent while soliciting campaign dollars. Recent elections have spurred interest in change. In Pottawatomie County, a woman lost a district court race after someone anonymously circulated fliers featuring a topless photo of her.
Also, concern has been raised about the influence of prosecutors in elections. Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy has been blamed for the defeat of judges in and out of his district.
Rep. Opio Toure, D-Oklahoma City, is opposed to going to an appointment process for district judges if it is anything like the current system for appellate judges. Toure, who is black, says the fact that only a handful of blacks are on the state bench shows bias exists in how appointments are made.
After a well-known black attorney did not get an interview before the Judicial Nominating Commission for an appellate court vacancy, Toure was outraged.
To illustrate his belief that blacks are being shortchanged in the selection process, Toure called a news conference last week and stood in front of a sign that read: "Blacks Need Not Apply."
He is proposing to expand the list of nominees to appellate posts from three to five, giving the governor the right to reject the slate forwarded by the nominating panel.
Because of the lack of black judges in the past, Toure said, there had been no pool of candidates with judicial experience from which the commission could pick a nominee.
In that sense, he said, the system has "perpetuated racism that has existed in this state from the start of the century. …