Stillwater, Ok June, 7 (The Oklahoma Post) –
Judges do not run in elections as Democrats or Republicans, they hold a non-partisan office. To pretend high-level Oklahoma officials can not be or are not politically motivated in the State of Oklahoma would be joining a cult of ignorance.
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”― Isaac Asimov
In many Oklahoma Legal Districts, removal of a bad apple from the office can be as simple as voters deciding not to vote for a candidate for the district attorney or judge in the next year’s election, or it can be a much more involved process. Just vote them out; they say when the political season ripens.
But what if you can’t? Who and how do you get the wormy apples out of the barrel? We all know local judges run the local Sherriff’s office and bailiff. If any of those elected county officials are accused of wrongdoing, the Oklahoma Attorney General will do the representation of the County Officials. Also, the OAG has the ability to pass back down discovery to the accused DA and Judge at a later date; any discovery uncovered during the defense of the corrupt Officials is now shared. Then, by law, the Oklahoma State Beaurou of Investigation can not dip down into a Legal District’s legal investigations without being invited. So who is judging who? Oklahoma Attorney Generals in most civil rights cases point to an Oklahoma Constitution in which no one knows much about and the legal standard is loosely interpreted to self serve Oklahoma officials or ABA members. A knowledge gap exists on how to remove corrupt Oklahoma legal politicians, only comparable to Oklahoman’s knowledge of the Tulsa Race Riots in a rural Oklahoma history 101.
As an example of the mess, the Oklahoman electorate normally would have a choice in their Judge and DA because others wanted to work in public service, creating a full ticket of choices to replace the corrupt judge. Payne County District Phillip Judge Corley would have to face the electorate on Nov. 2, 2022, if he would like want to sit on the bench for another four-year term. He would have to show his election funding and have an ethics file opened, etc., etc. Not in Oklahoma, no Sir, as long as they don’t take donations of more than $500. then it almost doesn’t matter to the election board what the previous toll on the populace has been. Any previous lawsuits, corruption allegations, and the like are never presented to the ethics board or public for review of character and morality. Judge Phillip Corley has no opposition on the ticket. So no donations are needed, no transparency needed, and thus no review of qualification by State Election Board or Ethics Board.
Likewise, for example, if District Attorney Laura Austin Thomas wishes to remain in office, she would have to stand for election first in a Primary Election in mid-2022 and, if she wins the party’s nomination and draws an opponent from another party, she would face the voters in Nov. 2022. However, there are few politicians in Oklahoma that ever face opposition on a ticket, and neither will Payne County DA Laura Austin Thomas. Apathy.
But what about removing a DA or judge from office before their term runs out? First, voters cannot recall a district judge or DA.
Only 18 states allow for voter-initiated recalls of DA’s. Oklahoma is not one of them. Likewise, for judges, there is no codified standard for a recall in Oklahoma’s election laws.
Impeachment? Nice try! According to the Oklahoma Constitution. Article 8, Section 1 says “The Governor and other elective state officers, including the Justices of the Supreme Court, shall be liable and subject to impeachment for wilful neglect of duty, corruption in office, habitual drunkenness, incompetency, or any offense involving moral turpitude committed while in office.” There is no specific mention of district judges or district attorneys in Article 8, Section 1 of the Constitution.
A 1968 decision and opinion by the state Supreme Court (State v. Freeman, 1968) limited impeachment to statewide elected officials. Two statutes apply to district attorneys and district judges. Title 22, Sec. 1181 says a grand jury can accuse officials and then present its findings to a district judge. That judge of the grand jury could then decide to hold a jury trial.
Title 51, Sec. 91 is the official misconduct rule and Sec. 93 lays out specific forms of misconduct: Official misconduct within the meaning of this act is hereby defined to be:
“1. Any willful failure or neglect to diligently and faithfully perform any duty enjoined upon such officer by the laws of this state.
2. Intoxication in any public place within the state produced by strong drink voluntarily taken.
3. Committing any act constituting a violation of any penal statute involving moral turpitude. Such an act has been committed, in the sense of this section, when the official involved has been convicted thereof by a court of record; and suspension from office as provided by Section 98 of this title shall be sought and is hereby authorized upon such conviction, even though the official so convicted has appealed such conviction.”
Sec. 93 describes the duties of the Attorney General:
“It shall be the duty of the Attorney General of this state when directed by the Governor, or upon notice being received by the Attorney General in writing and verified by fifteen or more reputable citizens of the county or by one percent (1 percent) of the registered voters that voted in the previous election for the political subdivision of which the officer who is the subject of the complaint is an official, whichever is greater before some officer authorized to administer oaths, that any officer herein mentioned has been guilty of any of the acts, omissions or offenses as set out in Section 93 of this title, to investigate such complaint, and if on such investigation the Attorney General shall find that there is reasonable cause for such complaint, the Attorney General shall institute proceedings in the Supreme Court, or any district court of the county of the residence of the accused, to oust such officer from office.”
According to the information posted on Oklahoma Attorney General’s website, “[Oklahoma] District Attorneys in the state answer to the registered voters in their respective judicial districts. The Attorney General has no statutory authority regarding a district attorney’s decision to prosecute or not prosecute a criminal case.”
While the attorney general may not be able to intervene in deciding prosecutions, Title 51 of the Oklahoma State Statutes states the attorney general does have statutory responsibilities in cases of alleged misconduct.
Members of the public can file complaints against lawyers with the Oklahoma Bar Association if they feel a lawyer or a district attorney has acted in an unprofessional manner. Complaint forms are available here.
However, the entrenched politics of Gina Hendrix previously prevented any real change on the behalf of Oklahoma; there is a legal term called Ethics Resististance that Ms. Hendrix has been accused of promoting, by even out-of-state senators involved with certain federal probes.
Here’s what the bar association says about complaints:
“The Oklahoma Bar Association investigates allegations of unethical conduct against lawyers practicing in Oklahoma. If you believe your attorney has acted improperly, you may file a complaint with the OBA’s Office of the General Counsel. The primary purpose of the lawyer discipline system is to protect the public.
“The Oklahoma Supreme Court gives the Oklahoma Bar Association the authority to investigate complaints against lawyers. Funding for lawyer discipline comes from annual dues paid by all state bar members, not by tax dollars.
“Lawyers who are found guilty of serious misconduct, such as theft of client funds, may be suspended or disbarred from practicing law. Other types of misconduct, such as not communicating with clients or failing to diligently pursue a case, may result in censure or reprimand.”
What happens after a complaint is brought before the bar?
Not much is known regarding confidential admonishments.
“From the written information and documents you submit, the Office of the General Counsel will review the information and may decide to:
o Open an investigation
o Ask you to provide more information
o Notify you that the office can take no action.”
Normally they don’t. Nor do those judges often issue sanctions on offending attorneys.
The OBA website cautions that a large number of complaints are filed, and it may take “a few weeks” for the state bar to contact the person filing the complaint. In addition, a copy of any complaint is sent to the affected lawyer who is asked to respond in writing.
State bar investigations are confidential, according to information on the bar association’s Web site. What about district judges? The process to have a judge removed starts with the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints.
A complaint is often filed by a victim of legal abuse, with little to no help from the legal industry. Nobody wants to rock the vote, I mean boat, and quite frankly all stories of legal abuse sound fictitious until allowed to go forward in front of a jury or a high-level news organization takes hold of the story. When a complaint is received, a three-person panel reviews it and, if they think it is warranted, they launch an investigation to determine if the judicial conduct code has been broken or if other statutes or laws have been broken. That investigation remains confidential and the offending judges keep working with the group of offending attorneys. The complainant is left in the dark, under the threat that if going public, the case would be tossed.
The code of judicial conduct consists of five canons:
Canon 1. A judge should uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary
Canon 2. A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities
Canon 3. A judge should perform the duties of judicial office impartially and diligently
Canon 4. A judge should so conduct the judge’s extra-judicial activities as to minimize the risk of conflict with judicial obligations
Canon 5. A judge or judicial candidate should refrain from inappropriate political activity
If the council can refer the case to the chief justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The full Supreme Court can then review the referral and take disciplinary action. They cannot remove a judge from office.
The council has a second option: They can refer the matter to an intermediary. They have five choices: the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, the Oklahoma House of Representatives, the governor, the state attorney general or the state bar association. It’s a raffle for everyone involved as to who or what could or would be chosen to move matters forward for Justice and Peace.
The intermediary can then file a complaint with the Court on the Judiciary, which then can “dispose of the case” through a trial or other means. This court can do anything from dismissing the case to removing a judge from office. Ever heard of this happening? Probably not and we challenge readers to show the rights of the constituency exercised. Truth is, the normal citizen can’t afford nor withstand the mental stress placed on the individual and family to receive justice against a crooked official, or set.
The Oklahoma Constitution also clearly states the reasons a judge may be thrown off the bench. In Section 7A, it says “Cause for removal from office shall be: Gross neglect of duty; corruption in office; habitual drunkenness; commission while in the office of any offense involving moral turpitude; gross partiality in office; oppression in office; or other grounds as may be specified hereafter by the legislature.”
Everything the council does in the way of investigations is confidential to the same degree as a grand jury. The information in a complaint against a judge would become public if the council referred the matter to the Court of the Judiciary. What about if the other options were exercised vs the Cour Referral Option? Who would ever know if an unopposed Rural Judge violates the civil rights of citizens in Oklahoma? Who would really step in to protect the everyday citizen’s rights?
The council can be contacted at 1901 N. Lincoln Blvd, Oklahoma City, OK 73105-4999, or you can call 405-522-4800 or toll free at 877-873-7468.
(Writing by Rachel Meyer; Editing by Robbie Robertson)
Copyright The Oklahoma Post 2022