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Use of Oklahoma state email to support judges is questioned

The general counsel of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, who also is the husband of one of the state Supreme Court justices up for retention, says he didn't violate any law but would do things differently if he could do it over.
by Randy Ellis Published: October 9, 2012
/articleid/3717423/1/pictures/1853821">Photo - John Miley
John Miley

Miley said he has not received any direct complaint from individuals who received the email and he has not been contacted by the Ethics Commission.

Miley sent the email to 126 individuals associated with the General Counsels Forum, a group of Oklahoma agency legal advisers that shares best practices and discusses common issues that they confront. Miley signed the email as president of the organization.

Miley said Tuesday the email was intended solely for members of that group and they are used to sharing ideas and opinions for the betterment of the state. He said he wasn't trying to run a campaign.

In the email, Miley states the Oklahoma judicial system “is currently under attack by special interests,” an apparent reference to a group backed by The State Chamber releasing an initial evaluation of state Supreme Court justices last month that gave them scores based on their rulings on liability cases, including workers' compensation and medical malpractice matters.

“As a member of the State Bar, I believe we must do what we can to protect our judicial system,” Miley wrote.

Evaluations criticized

In an interview Tuesday, Miley said: “The judicial system in Oklahoma is very important to us and we can see how it impacts the daily lives of the citizens and the businesses in Oklahoma and these judges and justices are very good. They're good, conservative people ... and are very experienced and very good at what they do.”

Miley said the evaluations were a bad idea.

“I think it will be bad for the businesses of Oklahoma,” he said. “I think it will be bad for the citizens of Oklahoma.”

However, Miley said his comment about the judicial system being under attack really referred to things going on across the nation.

Fred Morgan, president and chief executive officer of The State Chamber, which has backed legislation seeking to overhaul the workers' compensation system and how lawsuits are treated in court cases, said his group's study was intended to be informational for voters.

“As far as use of the state email system to campaign for or against a judge, I just leave that to the attorney general to decide whether that's appropriate or not,” he said.

No appellate judge or justice has ever been defeated on a retention ballot in the history of Oklahoma, but Miley said it has happened in Iowa.

In the email, Miley listed the names of his wife and 11 other justices and judges on the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals and Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals whose names will appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

“It would be a great loss to the citizens and businesses of this state to lose any of these judges or justices,” he stated.

Judicial retention races for Oklahoma's three top appellate courts are nonpartisan. There are no opposition candidates. Voters cast ballots on whether to retain each judge.

If a majority votes in favor of a particular justice or judge, that individual serves another six-year term.

If a majority rejects a particular justice or judge, the governor must appoint a replacement from a list of three names submitted by the state Judicial Nominating Commission.

by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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