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Group releases rating system of Oklahoma's justices

The report, prepared by a group backed by The State Chamber, scores justices on their votes on civil liability cases. A former judge calls the findings inappropriate but one state justice who is up for retention in this fall's election says he welcomes the scrutiny.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: September 27, 2012

A group backed by The State Chamber released its initial evaluation Wednesday of how the nine justices on the Oklahoma Supreme Court rule on liability cases, which include workers' compensation and medical malpractice matters.

Fred Morgan, president and chief executive officer of The State Chamber, said the information is being made available to help voters who will be asked whether to retain four of the justices in the Nov. 6 general election.

Although the justices receive a score that can be considered pro- or anti-business, the evaluation by the Oklahoma Civil Justice Council is not intended to intimidate the justices or to be considered an endorsement of any candidate for judicial office, said Morgan, who serves as the council's president. The State Chamber has backed legislation seeking to overhaul the workers' compensation system and how lawsuits are treated in court cases.

The report “is intended to educate Oklahoma citizens and voters,” he said. “In Oklahoma, (appellate) judges are on retention ballots, and voters have a right to more information before casting their ballot.”

The report consists of a zero-to-100 rating system; the lower the score, the more often the justice ruled in favor of expanding liabilities, which he said adversely affects economic development.

“As the third branch of our state government, the decisions of the judiciary have a tremendous impact on everyone in our state,” Morgan said. “The spread of civil liability adversely affects our schools, nonprofit organizations and businesses.”

The council plans to release a similar report in about two weeks on judges serving on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals.

Daniel Boudreau, who served 25 years as a trial judge, a Court of Civil Appeals judge and an Oklahoma Supreme Court justice, said judges should be evaluated, but the council's effort is the wrong approach.

“If you want to evaluate a judge, this is the criteria you need to use: Is he an impartial, independent judge who applies the facts to the laws and renders his decision? This type of evaluation … is a threat both to the impartiality and the independence,” he said. “What is the judge doing here? Is the judge trying to pursue a fair and just result or is it the responsibility of the judge to promote the special interest agenda of, in this case, businesses?

“This is an attempt to intimidate judges,” said Boudreau, who works in legal remediation and arbitration in Tulsa. “Any evaluation that looks at whether a decision is pro- or anti-business only is inappropriate.”

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