The daily soap opera over who can and canâ€™t serve on Oklahomaâ€™s Judicial Nominating Commission continued Wednesday with the issuance of an attorney generalâ€™s opinion. A new constitutional amendment that prohibits nonlawyers who are appointed to the commission from having lawyers in their immediate families does not apply to commission members appointed before voters approved State Question 752 in November, Attorney General Drew Edmondson ruled Wednesday. The opinion appears to be too little, too late for the three lay members of the commission who resigned after the state question passed because they have spouses who are attorneys. Paul Sund, spokesman for Gov. Brad Henry, said it is his understanding the governor plans to proceed with appointing replacements for former commission members Sarah Redwine, of Norman, Connie Calvert, of Oklahoma City, and Kathryn Cornell, of Clinton.Comments
Defining familyThe speaker of the House and president pro tempore of the Senate also will each appoint a new nonlawyer member to the commission under the new law â€” raising its membership from 13 to 15. The new attorney generalâ€™s opinion states that the constitutional amendment is ambiguous concerning the term â€œimmediate family.â€ Consequently, the narrowest definition of the term that appears anywhere in the law should apply, the attorney general said. Edmondson ruled the prohibition against commission appointment should only apply to prospective new members who have lawyers who are (1) a child under the age of 18 years residing in the personâ€™s household; (2) the personâ€™s spouse; or (3) an individual claimed by the person or the personâ€™s spouse as a dependent for tax purposes. While Republicans and Democrats fight over the composition of the Judicial Nominating Commission, the underlying issue is who gets to appoint a new Supreme Court justice to fill the vacancy created by the Oct. 11 death of Marian Opala.
Quick action soughtHenry has said he would like to appoint a replacement before he leaves office in January and has urged the commission to act quickly and submit a list of three qualified applicants as soon as possible. Republicans and conservatives would like to slow the process down so Gov.-elect Mary Fallin would get to make the appointment. The attorney generalâ€™s opinion was described as â€œcuriousâ€ Wednesday by Fred Morgan, a former Republican legislator who is now serving as president of The State Chamber. Morgan said it is the attorney generalâ€™s legal duty to review ballot titles, specify any defects that are found, advise the Legislature and rewrite ballot questions, if necessary, prior to their being submitted to voters. â€œTo the extent there is any ambiguity to the term â€˜immediate family,â€™ itâ€™s kind of curious that he did not catch it when it was sent to him before being sent to a vote of the people,â€ Morgan said. Morgan noted the opinion doesnâ€™t address an issue that surfaced Tuesday concerning whether Rami Masri can continue serving on the commission, while simultaneously serving as a Grove school board member.
Does law apply here?The constitutional provision that created the Judicial Nominating Commission states that â€œno commissioner, while a member of the commission, shall hold any other public office by election or appointment.â€ Allen Smallwood, chairman of the Judicial Nominating Commission, said Wednesday he doesnâ€™t believe the prohibition applies to Masri. Smallwood pointed to a state law that exempts certain people from a dual office prohibition, including â€œany elected municipal officers and school board members who are appointed to a state board, commission, or similar entity if there is no compensation for such services other than reimbursement for necessary travel expenses.â€ Morgan disagreed with Smallwoodâ€™s interpretation, saying he believes â€œconstitutional provisions trump state statutes.â€ Sund said the governorâ€™s attorneys are still reviewing the issue.