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Effort to rate Oklahoma judges is a far cry from judicial bullying

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: June 10, 2012

A plan to rate judges is drawing fire from some attorneys who claim public dissemination of information somehow poisons the system.

The State Chamber and its partner organizations in Oklahoma City and Tulsa plan to launch an Oklahoma Civil Justice Council that will sponsor a zero-to-100 rating system for judges on the Court of Civil Appeals and Oklahoma Supreme Court. Ratings will be based upon whether a judge on a retention ballot supports the expansion of liabilities and expansion of existing law, preferring those who limit both.

Attorney Clark Brewster is among those decrying the ranking system as an effort to bully the judiciary. That's a bit much considering that one of the biggest complaints about judicial elections is that the campaigns are largely funded by lawyers who will appear before the judges they financially support. In a 2010 race, district judge candidate Kent Eldridge raised around 85 percent of campaign funds from attorneys, with more than two-thirds coming from lawyers who had practiced before him on the Workers' Compensation Court. Eldridge fell short in that race.

But when judges refuse attorney funding, they face the possibility of drawing a challenger and being outspent. The late Oklahoma County District Judge Twyla Mason Gray refused to accept campaign contributions from attorneys, saying it led to an appearance of favoritism. Perhaps that's why her 2010 opponent, lawyer Paul Faulk, told The Oklahoman he decided to run against Gray because she “doesn't treat people with respect — particularly attorneys.”

Even if attorneys' financial contributions to judges weren't an issue, under the current system lawyers tend to have the most information on how judges perform, yet all citizens are expected to vote.

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by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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