Legislature may consider judicial selection reforms
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Sunday, February 24, 2013
2/24/13 at 7:29 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - The State Senate could soon consider a number of changes to the judicial selection and retention process.
The Senate Rules Committee last week passed three measures that would let voters decide whether changes should be made. The measures could be heard on the Senate floor as early as Wednesday if no amendments are offered, said Nate Atkins, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa.
Senate Joint Resolution 21 by Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, would let voters decide if the governor should be allowed to pick judges directly with input from the Judicial Nominating Commission. Currently, the commission seeks applications and forwards three names to the governor, who selects a judge from those names.
The measure also calls for Senate confirmation of the governor's selection to fill judicial vacancies.
"It simply shifts when the Judicial Nominating Commission is involved," Jolley said.
Jolley's Senate Joint Resolution 24 would let voters decide to abolish the retention ballot for appeals court justices and change the current six-year terms to a single 20-year term. Jolley said he would be amenable to allowing judges to serve a second 20-year term.
Jolley said the measure removes politics from judicial elections. Judges in Oklahoma do not run on a partisan basis.
"Judges should do their job based off of the law and not off of the potential of having an election outcome," Jolley said.
Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, said that if a judge's decisions began to stray very far right or left, the voters would not have a voice for 20 years.
But Jolley said that "no one has ever lost a retention election, ever."
Senate Joint Resolution 22, also by Jolley, would let voters decide if the governor should pick the chief justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, subject to Senate confirmation.
Currently, the justices chose who will lead the court.
The Senate Rules Committee also advanced legislation that would change other election laws.
Senate Bill 76 by Sen. Eddie Fields, R-Wynona, would increase the fees required to file for office.
Candidates filing with the state or county election boards would be required to pay $400, up from $200. The fee would cover candidates for the Oklahoma Legislature, judges, prosecutors and other local county races.
Gubernatorial candidates would be required to pay $3,000, up from $1,500.
Candidates for the U.S. Senate would be required to pay $2,000, up from $1,000, while those filing for the U.S. House would pay $1,500, up from $750.
Candidates for statewide offices other than the governor would pay $1,000, up from $500.
The fees have not been increased for decades, said Paul Ziriax, Oklahoma State Election Board secretary.
Candidates also may submit a petition with the signatures of 4 percent of eligible voters, but Ziriax said it is rare for candidates to submit signatures.
Senate Bill 275, also by Fields, would change the filing dates for candidates to January from April.
The legislative session begins in early February and must end by late May.
Original Print Headline: Legislature may weigh judge selection reforms
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465