A ballot measure requiring changes in the makeup of the Judicial Nominating Commission has some questioning whether it could affect Gov. Brad Henry's chances at appointing another state Supreme Court justice before his term expires.
Commission chairman and Tulsa attorney Allen Smallwood has requested a legal opinion from Attorney General Drew Edmondson to determine how the commission should proceed once State Question 752 goes into effect today.
The state question adds two at-large, nonattorney members to the commission.
The members would be appointed by the Senate president pro tempore and the House speaker. The measure also put restrictions on nonlawyers who serve on the commission, including prohibiting having an attorney in their immediate family.
Can current members stay?
Smallwood said some could argue the commission's decisions are not valid until two new members are added. In addition to that, there is a question whether three existing lay members on the commission can continue to serve because they are married to lawyers, he said.
He said those members are Sarah Redwine, of Norman, Connie L. Calvert, of Oklahoma City, and Kathryn K. Cornell, of Clinton.
"The last thing we want to do is go through the selection process and have someone question whether our membership is legal," he said.
Henry has expressed his desire to fill the vacancy left by former Justice Marian Opala, who died Oct. 11. It would be Henry's sixth appointment to the state's highest court.
AG opinion could take weeks
Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, an author of SQ 752, said Monday the three lay members married to lawyers should be removed from the commission the day the measure takes effect.
"That's what was intended when it was written," said Anderson, who is an attorney. "Anyone on the commission that doesn't meet the new criteria doesn't get to remain."
He said the commission would continue to legally function before the Senate pro tem and House speaker make their appointments, because there will still be enough members for a meeting quorum.
Smallwood said he thinks the three veteran members could remain on the commission. He said the law would only affect new appointees, unless it explicitly states the opposite in the question, which it did not.
Charlie Price, spokesman for the attorney general's office, said they received Smallwood's request for an opinion Friday, and it could take weeks to answer.
Commission continues work
In the meantime, Smallwood said the commission will continue as usual with its business of helping select judges.
Along with Opala's seat, Henry will have a chance to appoint a district judge in his hometown of Shawnee.
Last week, Henry appointed Pottawatomie County District Judge Douglas Combs to succeed retiring state Supreme Court Justice Rudolph Hargrave.
The Judicial Nominating Commission began advertising for Comb's replacement Monday with an application deadline of Nov. 29.
The application deadline for Opala's seat is Nov. 19.
Smallwood said once the commission reviews the applications, they will choose the best qualified for interviews and ask the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to conduct background checks on candidates.
After the interviews, the commissioners will forward at least three names to the governor for
Smallwood said they hope to do that before Dec. 31.