State Chamber releases Supreme Court judicial evaluations

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By M. Scott Carter | Sept. 27, 2012

OKLAHOMA CITY — Saying he just wanted to provide voters with more information, the president of the State Chamber of Oklahoma released the group’s first judicial evaluations of the state’s Supreme Court justices.

Chamber CEO Fred Morgan, who served as minority floor leader in the Oklahoma House of Representatives several years ago, said the rankings were generated for the Oklahoma Civil Justice Council, a group created by the chamber.

Morgan, however, declined to name the council’s members or its board of directors.

Morgan said the evaluations were needed by voters.

“We think that the public needs more information,” he said. “Our members have asked us to be more engaged in that evaluation and in those retention areas – they want more information. It’s vitally important for all Oklahomans to have information about how these cases, which often impact everyone in our state, are decided.”

Though in Oklahoma appellate judges are appointed by the governor, they are required to stand for public vote every four years via a judicial retention ballot.

Morgan said the evaluations were performed by the Judicial Evaluation Institute of Washington, D.C. He said the study was analyzed by attorneys in Oklahoma, but he refused to say who those attorneys were.

Morgan said the study focused on the spread of civil liability.

“The spread of civil litigation affects everyone in our community, it’s not just a business issue,” he said. “Even the Girl Scouts and other nonprofit organization are affected by the spread of civil liability.”

However, legal experts said it’s difficult to say whether or not civil liability was a negative.

“I’m kind of at a loss on what that means, exactly,” said Bob Sheets, a shareholder with the Phillips Murrah law firm. “It’s hard to say whether or not that’s a good idea. I never saw Oklahoma out of control with regards to civil liability.”

The concept of civil liability, Sheets said, was based on law and state statutes.

“If someone violated those standards, there would be civil liability,” he said.

Sheets said a better evaluation of state Supreme Court justices would be based on how impartial the justices were and whether or not they followed the law.

“Are they fair and impartial?” he said. “What you want is a judge – like an umpire or a referee – who is not going to let their personal feelings interfere with their ruling.”

Justices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court declined to comment.