Woodward, Okla. —
OKLAHOMA CITY - Along with partisan voting, citizens are being asked by the Oklahoma Bar Association (OBA) to mark their Nov. 6 ballot for uncontested judicial seats.
There are 4 state Supreme Court justices and 8 appellate court judges who are being considered for judicial merit retention, according to OBA President Cathy Christensen.
Christensen explained that the judges are initially appointed to their posts by the Governor, based on recommendations from a 15-member Judicial Nominating Committee. This committee investigates, interviews and thoroughly evaluates the candidates. They are seated for a 6-year term, after which they are retained for their offices "on merit" by a majority of citizen votes.
The merit voting system was approved by voters as the result of a 1967 Constitutional Amendment, officials said.
The Supreme Court Justices on the retention ballot are Justice Norma Gurich, District 3; Justice Yvonne Kauger, District 4; and Justice James Edmondson, District 7; and Justice Douglas Combs, District 8.
In the Court of Criminal Appeals, the following are up for retention: Judge Clancy Smith, District 1; Judge David Lewis, District 4; and Presiding Judge Arlene Johnson, District 6.
For the Court of Civil Appeals, the following are up for retention: Judge P. Thomas Thornbrugh, District 3, Office 1; Judge William Hetherington, Jr., District 4, Office 1; Judge Kenneth Buettner, District 5, Office 1; Judge Robert Bell, District 5, Office 2; and Judge E. Bay Mitchell, District 6, Office 1.
Combs in the Supreme Court, Smith in the criminal appeals court, and Thornbrugh and Hetherington in the civil appeals court are all being considered for unexpired terms ending in 2017. The remaining judges are being considered for full 6-year terms.
"These judges do not have a political party affiliation," Christensen said. "They must be free to rule independently without fear of retaliation for their decisions."
WEBSITE OFFERS MORE INFORMATION ABOUT JUDGES
To help enlighten voters about the seats on the 3 courts, OBA has established a website, www.CourtFacts.org, which is designed to explain how the merit process works and to give background information on each judge who will be voted upon.
Christensen said she hopes voters will use the website to glean information about the offices and the judges "from a source that is not tied to a political decision, unlike (voting) matters that are influenced by lobbyists."
"I believe the voters of Oklahoma are smart people, and that they can use the information that is available from CourtFacts to make an informed decision when they cast their ballot," she said.
CourtFacts.org features several lists of frequently asked questions about judicial merit, links to opinions each of the judges have written and to OBA itself.