One major problem arose with the retirement system's interpretation of the importance of the loyalty oath — a oath separate from the oath of office. Loyalty oaths are required by state law, but are not required by the state constitution.
The retirement system's board erroneously determined that the loyalty oath was one of Stipe's oaths of office within the meaning of the law on forfeiting a pension, the court said.
In 1993 the Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional oath was Oklahoma's sole official oath for a public officer, the opinion said. The Legislature changed the law to make the loyalty oath "cumulative” to the oath of office, but that happened on Nov. 1, 2004, after the events in Stipe's case took place, court justices said.
Three justices sit this one out
Not all of the judges took part in the decision.
Justice Rudolph Hargrave wrote the opinion. Those concurring with him were Justices Marian Opala, Joseph Watt, Tom Colbert, John Reif, and retired justices Robert Lavender and Hardy Summers. Winchester dissented.
Retired justices can be asked to sit in on cases when active justices sit out. In this case, three current justices did not participate.
Justice James Edmondson disqualified himself, and Justices Yvonne Kauger and Steven Taylor recused.
Taylor, a former district judge in McAlester, recused in November, saying he had had exposure to extensive local media coverage, considerable hometown comments and local government deliberation and action concerning Stipe's federal felony convictions, most of which are outside the record of the pension case.
He said it would be difficult for him to be a fair and impartial judge of the issues presented.
Edmondson and Kauger offered no explanation in Tuesday's opinion on why they recused.
Read The Oklahoma Supreme Court Ruling