CALLS for judicial reform in Oklahoma are prompting outcries from the current system's defenders. Some defenders' statements are providing ammunition for reformers' arguments.
In an interview with The Journal Record, Shawnee attorney Terry West — a critic of judicial reform — described lawsuit reform as an effort to protect corporations.
“We've been in and out of tort reform for 10 or 12 years,” said West, a plaintiff's attorney. “And they have done basically what they set out to do, which was insulate corporate America from individuals and they have succeeded to a great extent.”
In addition to appearing untethered from reality, West's business-bashing comments are notable because he has twice served on the state Judicial Nominating Commission, which effectively controls Oklahoma Supreme Court appointments.
The commission, touted as a way to take politics out of judicial selections, clearly involves substantial politicization if people like West are at the wheel. West's comments largely echo the anti-business views of Occupy Wall Street, not the views of Oklahomans on Main Street.
When vacancies occur on the Supreme Court or civil and criminal appellate courts, the nominating commission screens applicants and submits three nominees to the governor, whose appointment power is limited to those names.
The Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission has 15 members: six selected by the Oklahoma Bar Association, six appointed by the governor, and three at-large appointees (two at-large appointees are non-attorney members appointed by legislative leaders; the third is selected by the other commission members). The gubernatorial appointees are not attorneys.
The commission is based on a plan pioneered in Missouri. But a book by Richard A. Watson & Rondal G. Downing, “The Politics of the Bench and the Bar” (1969), reviewed the first 25 years of merit selection in Missouri and concluded that it largely replaced the political concerns of the broad public with the internal politics of the legal profession.