Oklahomans will vote Tuesday on whether to retain or dismiss 12 state appellate court judges.
Four state Supreme Court justices, three judges on the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals and five judges on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals will be on the ballot this year.
Oklahomans will be asked to vote “yes” or “no” on whether to allow each judge to remain in office.
A majority of “yes” votes is required for the judges to keep their jobs.
If voters were to reject a judge, the governor would appoint a successor, choosing from a list of names provided by the state's Judicial Nominating Commission.
Oklahoma voters have never rejected a judge on a retention ballot and such elections have traditionally drawn little voter interest.
This year, however, the State Chamber of Oklahoma injected some controversy into the election by joining with Oklahoma City and Tulsa chambers to form a council that rated state Supreme Court justices and Court of Civil Appeals judges based on whether the council felt their decisions had a positive economic impact.
The ratings, which are available on the chamber's website, drew immediate criticism from many attorneys, who argued judges should be evaluated on whether their decisions followed the law, rather than perceived economic consequences of their decisions. The Oklahoma Bar Association created its own website dedicated to providing information about the judges and their decisions.
Following is a list of justices and judges on the retention ballot:
Oklahoma Supreme Court
Justice Noma D. Gurich, 60, was appointed to the state Supreme Court by former Gov. Brad Henry in January 2011, becoming the third woman to serve on the court since statehood. She has more than 24 years of judicial experience in Oklahoma, having previously served as a district judge and as a judge on the Workers' Compensation Court.
Justice Yvonne Kauger, 75, was appointed to the state Supreme Court by former Gov. George Nigh in March 1984. She graduated first in her class from the Oklahoma City University School of Law in 1969 and worked as an associate of the law firm of Rogers, Travis and Jordon until 1972, when she became the first female judicial assistant to state Supreme Court Justice Ralph B. Hodges. She held that position until she was appointed to the state Supreme Court.
Justice James E. Edmondson, 67, was appointed to the state Supreme Court by Henry in 2003. He previously served 20 years as a district judge. Earlier, he served as an acting U.S. attorney, assistant U.S. attorney and as an assistant district attorney in Muskogee County.
Justice Douglas L. Combs, 61, was appointed to the state Supreme Court by Henry and began serving in January 2010. He previously served eight years as a district judge and had also served as a special judge and as an assistant state attorney general.
of Civil Appeals
Judge P. Thomas Thornbrugh, 66, was appointed to the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals by Gov. Mary Fallin in September 2011. Before that appointment, he served 15 years as a district judge.
Judge William C. Hetherington Jr., 65, was appointed to the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals by Henry in November 2009. He has prior judicial experience as both a district judge and special judge.
Judge Kenneth L. Buettner, 62, was appointed to his judicial office by former Gov. Frank Keating, and was sworn in February 26, 1996. He previously worked four years as a captain in the Air Force Judge Advocate General's Corps and 16 years in private practice.
Judge Robert “Bobby” Bell, 45, was appointed to the appellate court in June 2005 by Henry. He previously practiced law in Norman and served as municipal judge in Moore, Blanchard, Noble and Purcell, and as a special municipal judge in Broken Arrow.
Judge E. Bay Mitchell III, 58, was appointed to the court by Keating in 2002. He previously worked as a staff attorney for Judge Carl B. Jones of the Court of Civil Appeals.
Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals
Judge Clancy Smith, 69, was appointed to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals by Henry in September 2010. She has prior experience as a district judge and special judge in Tulsa County.
Judge Arlene Johnson, 72, was appointed to the court in 2005 by Henry and currently serves as its presiding judge. She previously worked as an assistant U.S. attorney for more than 20 years. She also has worked as an assistant district attorney in Oklahoma County and as criminal chief for the Oklahoma attorney general's office.
Judge David B. Lewis, 54, was appointed to the state Court of Criminal Appeals by Henry in August 2005. He was the first black person to serve on the court. Judge Lewis previously served as a district judge for Comanche, Stephens, Jefferson and Cotton counties from 1999-05. He also has prior experience as a Comanche County prosecutor and special judge.
About the term
Six years is the normal term for Oklahoma appellate judges, but four of the judges — Combs, Smith, Thornbrugh and Hetherington — would serve unexpired terms that would end in January 2017.
DID YOU KNOW?
• In Oklahoma, district and associate district judges run for election against other candidates, but appellate judges do not have opponents on the ballot.
• The retention system is designed to remove politics and fundraising from appellate court positions.
• There are nine justices on the Oklahoma Supreme Court, 12 judges on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals and five members of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. Their names appear on retention ballots on a staggered, rotating basis.