Christie Southern, eCapitol

Lawmakers have filed a series of bill this legislative session targeting the judiciary branch. Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, most recently spoke about a bill he will file that seeks to restructure the way justices are selected.

Currently, justices and appellate judges are appointed by the governor from a list chosen by the unelected Judicial Nominating Commission.

Cleveland said in an interview his bill would require the Judicial Nominating Commission to send a list of all applicants to the governor. Currently, the Commission sends its top three candidates to the governor. Cleveland said this bill would require them to send all nominees in an effort to give the governor more choices.

“However many judges apply, they would investigate them, rank them and send them all to the governor to pick,” he said. “If there are 50 people that’s up to them to explain but [the governor] is going to get more options.”

Cleveland said the current process limits a governor’s choice. “What if the governor doesn’t like those three? She doesn’t have a choice. She has to pick from those three. Just because they like them, doesn’t mean she will,” he said, adding that on one occasion the Commission sent Gov. Mary Fallin only two options, both of whom were Democrats. “So, this would alleviate that process,” he added.

Cleveland said his bill wasn’t meant to be confrontational and unlike another House member’s bill, which seek to eliminate the selection process altogether, his is a compromise of sorts. He was referring to HJR1037, recently filed by Rep. Kevin Calvey, which if approved, will let Oklahomans vote on whether the state Supreme Court and other appellate judges should be elected by the people in nonpartisan elections. “People complain about the courts but I think the courts are fair,” he said. “We don’t always have to agree with them, though. This is trying to show we are making changes and trying to be more transparent.” This is the second bill Cleveland has filed dealing with the judiciary. In December, he filed a bill that that would require disciplinary actions taken against judges, and the reasons behind those actions, to be made public.

The Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints is the entity that receives and investigates allegations of judicial misconduct. When appropriate, it can also recommend intervention or discipline by the Supreme Court or the removal or mandatory retirement of a judge by the Court on the Judiciary.

Currently, state statute provides that any investigation conducted by the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints is to be held in secret to the same extent as proceedings before a grand jury. Cleveland said the public is unaware when any disciplinary action is taken against a judge, leaving little accountability for these elected persons. Language for either one of Cleveland’s bills is not yet available.

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