The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

April 13, 2014

Taint likely

Changing our state’s judicial nominating process is worrisome

ENID, Okla. — “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

At the risk of making grammarians cringe, we mention this informal phrase because an Oklahoma lawmaker wants to change the state’s judicial nominating process.

 “If something’s not broken, why fix it?” Tulsa lawyer Renée DeMoss, the Oklahoma Bar Association’s president, more eloquently said recently. “What is being proposed leads to corruption. We have three separate branches of government for a reason. They should be separate and independent.”

Specifically, state Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, wants to take away the OBA’s power to elect six attorneys to the 15-member Judicial Nominating Commission.

The new measure would give three appointments apiece to the speaker of the House and Senate president pro tem.

The commission screens candidates for appellate judgeships, with the governor making appointments from the suggested nominees.

DeMoss said the current judicial selection process was adopted half a century ago after a judicial and political scandal that included a $150,000 bribe and a rigged Supreme Court verdict.

The commission process currently in place is never going to be completely apolitical, but these proposed changes would be overtly partisan, and that would be a mistake.

Switching the system could cause the selection of nominees based on political criteria rather than a solid and diverse legal background, strong work ethic and an impartial temperament.

When considering the demeanor of jurists, we need smart, efficient and engaged judges that don’t legislate from the bench.

We worry the proposed change could likely taint our state’s judicial system.

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