OBA launches website about judges on ballot via Journal Record

OBA launches website about judges on ballot

By M. Scott Carter

OKLAHOMA CITY - In a move that could provide a counter to a new ranking system developed by the State Chamber of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Bar Association has launched a website to give voters information about state judges who are on the Nov. 6 judicial retention ballot.

The bar association launched the site shortly after the chamber announced at a Capitol press conference that it had partnered with the Judicial Evaluation Institute of Washington, D.C., to evaluate and score members of the appellate judiciary on the expansion of civil liability.

Shortly after the announcement, OBA officials said they created the website, CourtFacts.org, to provide voters more information about the state's appellate judges. Cathy Christensen, OBA president, said voters are being bombarded with election and campaign information.

"Some interest groups may use the retention ballot to promote their own agendas," Christensen said.

"Launching this website is our opportunity to educate voters that fair and impartial judges are critical to the success of a strong legal system."

Earlier this month, State Chamber CEO and President Fred Morgan said the chamber's evaluations were needed by voters.

"We think that the public needs more information," Morgan 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."

Morgan said the chamber's analysis centered 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."

Christensen countered that the bar association's website was designed to provide nonbiased information.

"I trust our voters to make up their own minds," she said. "Oklahomans understand that their independence depends on judicial independence."

She said state appellate judges and justices must be free to decide cases base on state laws and the Constitution.

"This is why selection of Oklahoma justices and judges is designed to be nonpartisan; they must be able to rule independently without fear of retaliation for making a decision," Christensen said. "Our legal system is only as strong as the quality of judges who uphold it, and this website makes it clear that judges shouldn't be told how to vote, and neither should voters."

Politics, she said, should not be injected into the judicial system.

"We believe that politics doesn't have a place at all in the third branch of government," she said. "We're trying to educate the public."

Christensen said it was a coincidence that the bar association's website was launched just days after the chamber announced its plan.

"We actually began long before we were aware of any other evaluations," she said. "We began long before the chamber was doing their so-called evaluations."
Christensen said the nation's judicial system faces a growing threat from those who try to inject politics into the court system.

"There is a big threat to fair and impartial courts," she said. "But that's not how we do it here in Oklahoma. A justice should be able to render a decision in a case without fear or retaliation. Fair and impartial justice is critical to a strong and functioning democracy. Here at home, justice isn't for sale. It won't be influence or intimidated."