More Reforms Needed
It’s always rewarding when the State Chamber can point to positive results from reforms we championed at the state Capitol.
The latest example of this is a new lawsuit climate survey by the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, which shows Oklahoma climbing out of its position as one of the 10 worst states in the country. The jump from 42nd to 33rd is no doubt due to the lawsuit reforms passed by lawmakers in 2009 and again in a 2013 special session after the original reforms were overturned by the state Supreme Court due to logrolling.
The survey of more than 1,200 corporate attorneys at major companies across the country looks at 10 different factors including treatment of class-action lawsuits, damages and fairness of juries.
Two categories where Oklahoma fared worst show the most obvious way to improve the state’s ranking even more.
Oklahoma’s worst score came in judges’ impartiality. It remains among the 10 worst states in the nation at 41. The second-worst score was the competence of judges; Oklahoma ranked 39th. Clearly, Oklahoma needs judicial reform.
We are one of only 11 states to give the state bar association a role in selecting appellate judges. As Oklahoma City University law professor Andrew Spiropoulos argued in this very newspaper last month, that’s akin to letting baseball pitchers pick their own umpires. More states (22) directly elect their judges than any other method. The second-most common process (15 states) is appointment by an elected official or body, usually the governor, often with approval needed by one or more chambers of the legislature.
Oklahoma appellate judges serve for life, unless they lose a retention vote. This is also a minority position; 33 states and the District of Columbia have some sort of mandatory retirement age for judges. Most of them set at 70 years. While it’s not quite term limits like Oklahoma voters chose for the other two branches, a mandatory retirement age ensures there’s some regular turnover in the judiciary.
Oklahoma lawmakers and governors Brad Henry and Mary Fallin are to be commended for their support of successful lawsuit reforms. But the time has come to continue those reforms. Bring the judicial system more in line with the rest of the country.
This article was posted in The Journal Record as part of Fred Morgan's monthly opinion editorial.