State Chamber plans to publicize its judicial ratings
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Monday, October 22, 2012
10/22/12 at 7:29 AM
See the League of Women Voters guide
The Oklahoma Bar Association site
The Oklahoma Civil Justice Council judicial evaluations
OKLAHOMA CITY - As the Nov. 6 election nears, the Oklahoma State Chamber plans to publicize its rating system for state Supreme Court justices.
Voters will consider whether to retain Justices Noma D. Gurich, Yvonne Kauger, James E. Edmondson and Douglas L. Combs.
The State Chamber-backed Oklahoma Civil Justice Council recently released its evaluation of members of the Oklahoma Supreme Court based on whether their decisions tended to broaden or restrict civil liability.
Fred Morgan, president of the chamber and the council, said the group plans to advertise the study in newspapers and other formats, but does not have plans to advertise on television
Morgan said the goal is to publish the study, scores and criteria used to come up with the ratings.
"I think, sometimes, it is in the eye of the beholder if it is a hit piece or not," Morgan said when asked if the media campaign could be viewed as targeting justices on the retention ballot. "The goal is to simply put the information out, the scores of the justices, to the public."
Meanwhile, some attorneys have said the chamber is trying to intimidate the justices.
Basing scores on whether cases benefited business is not appropriate, they say. They are also critical of the cases selected to rate the justices.
"The rating system is flawed," said Tulsa attorney Ted Sherwood. "They are only looking at a small slice of the decision, basically evaluating the justices on whether big business won or not."
Tulsa attorney Guy A. Fortney was critical of the cases selected to rate the justices.
In one case used in the State Chamber's evaluation, the state's high court ordered a new trial in a medical malpractice case in which a verdict was rendered favoring the defendants. The court ruled that a juror was biased against the plaintiffs and ordered a new trial.
The State Chamber views upholding the right to a fair trial by a neutral and unbiased jury as an expansion of liability, Fortney said. He said the chamber hopes to see more trials where the right to a fair and impartial jury free from racial prejudice is not preserved.
"I think they have cherry-picked the cases from the Oklahoma Supreme Court and then viewed them through a very distorted vision," Fortney said.
Bradley A. Gungoll, an attorney who practices in Enid and Oklahoma City, said the rating system is an effort to stack the court with a certain kind of judge.
"That is a danger for all of us," he said.
Morgan said the only criticism he has heard has been coming from trial lawyers, who have had a tremendous amount of power in selecting and influencing judges throughout history.
Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Bar Association has created its own website to provide information about judges.
"I would applaud them for doing it," Morgan said. "I think putting more information out there for the public is laudable. I just question why it took 100 years for them to do it. Obviously, it is a response to what we put together."
Original Print Headline: Judicial ratings will get publicized
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465
Fred Morgan: The president of the State Chamber and council said the release of the ratings is to get the information out for public consumption.