Oklahoma: Constitutional amendment to abolish Court of Criminal Appeals passes House Rules Committee

There are two states that have two separate courts of last resort: Oklahoma and Texas. Both have a court of last resort for civil matters (Supreme Court) and one for criminal (Court of Criminal Appeals). Texas has debated and attempted for 20 years to merge their courts, now Oklahoma appears to be trying to do the same.

HJR 1051 as filed and approved by the House Rules Committee yesterday would abolish the Court of Criminal Appeals within one year of approval by voters. All “duties, powers, cases, records, property, and personnel” EXCEPT judges would transfer to the Supreme Court. It appears the judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals would simply have their existing offices and terms ended.

The last and only time in recent history an effort like this was attempted in 2012 (discussed here).

There has been a single attempt in the last 20 years to merge the two courts. SJR 83 of 2012 would have abolished the constitutional references to the Court of Criminal Appeals. This was part of a package of bills, including SJR 84 of 2012 which would have stripped the newly combined Supreme Court of the power to strike down any law as unconstitutional, instead allowing an “Ad Hoc Court of Constitutional Review” created by the legislature itself to determine whether its laws were constitutional.


Oklahoma: plan to let county employees carry guns into courthouses modified in House committee

A plan to let more people carry guns into Oklahoma courthouses was modified by a House committee last week.

HB 2527 as originally filed and discussed here provided all county employees, not just elected officials as in a 2017 law that expanded courthouse carry, with the ability to carry concealed weapons “when acting in the course and scope of employment within the courthouses of the county in which he or she is employed.”

HB 2527 was amended in the House Public Safety Committee to allow for the county board of commissioners to make the decision.

The board of county commissioners of any county may designate certain employees of the county, who possess a valid handgun license issued pursuant to the provisions of the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act, to carry a concealed handgun when acting in the course and scope of employment within the courthouses of the county in which the person is employed. The provisions of this paragraph shall not allow the county employee to carry the handgun into a courtroom.

HB 2527 now goes to the full House.

Oklahoma: House Resolution asks judicial disciplinary commission to remove judge who accepted a plea bargain in a child rape case; similar resolutions filed in 2010 & 2011

Yesterday a resolution was filed in the Oklahoma House asking for the state’s judicial disciplinary commission (Court on the Judiciary, Trial Division) to investigate District Judge Wallace Coppedge and remove him from office.

Judge Coppedge is accused of violating the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct in accepting the plea deal agreed to by the prosecutor and defense counsel in the case of Benjamin Petty who plead guilty to raping and sodomizing a 13-year-old girl at Falls Creek church camp. The plea agreement included no jail time and 15 years probation. The prosecutor who agreed to the deal has been forced to resign.

HR 1025 as filed claims Judge Wallace’s decision not “to reject the terms of the negotiated plea bargain constitutes a gross neglect of duty.”

The resolution is almost identical to ones filed in 2010 (HR 1065) and 2011 (HR 1001) against District Judge Thomas Bartheld who in  June 2009 excepted a plea bargain approved of by “The district attorney, child’s family, advocates and the defendant.” In that case the defendants plead no contest of raping and sodomizing a 5-year-old girl and was sentenced to 20 years in prison, 19 of which are suspended. The case made national headlines, with Bill O’Reilly mentioning the judge by name on his show seven times. Neither resolution advanced and Judge Bartheld remained on the bench.



Oklahoma: last session legislature expanded who can carry guns into courthouses, now bills filed to expand to even more people; judges could be allowed to carry guns in court without a per

The latest efforts to expand carrying of guns into Oklahoma courthouses has been filed for the 2018 session.

As a general precept of law, guns and other weapons are not allowed in state courthouses (21 Okl. St. § 1272(A)(4)) In addition, having a concealed handgun permit doesn’t allow for courthouse carry, either (21 Okl. St. § 1277(A)).

However, there have been numerous exceptions added to law in recent years.

In 2007 judges were allowed to bring guns into courthouses so long as they had a handgun license and notified the Administrative Director of the Courts. (SB 145 of 2007)

In 2017 elected county officials were permitted to carry a concealed handgun “when acting in the course and scope of employment within the courthouses of this state” (discussed here). An amendment was added to the original bill to keep guns out of courtrooms. (HB 1145 of 2017)

Now there are plans to expand courthouse carry to all county employees and to remove the requirement that judges must have a handgun license to carry

HB 2527 as filed would provide county employees, not just elected officials as in the 2017 law, with the ability to carry concealed weapons “when acting in the course and scope of employment within the courthouses of the county in which he or she is employed.”

SB 1307 would simply amended the 2017 to add “or employees” in the existing law (e.g. “Elected officials OR EMPLOYEES of a county…”)

SB 1227 would remove the requirement that District Court judges must have a handgun license in order to carry a gun into a courthouse.


Oklahoma: House bill would make papers/documents of District Court judges subject to Oklahoma Open Records Act

Oklahoma’s Open Records Act defines “records” for purposes of the act and generally requires such records of any “public body” be open to the public. There is an explicit exemption for judges, however, from the definition of “public body” except as to public funds.

Except for the records required by Section 24A.4 of this title [related to expenditure of public funds], “public body” does not mean judges, justices, the Council on Judicial Complaints, the Legislature, or legislators

At least one member of the House, however, wants to release to the public the documents of District Court judges in the state. Under HB 2867 as flied.

  1. The definition of “public body” would now include “district court judge”
  2. The general exemption of records of “judges” would no longer include district court judges.

HB 2867 has been prefiled for the 2018 session.

Oklahoma: Senate bill requires retention election ballots include age of judge, years of service, and appointing governor

Oklahoma’s appellate courts use a retention system where voters are given the name of the judge and asked (per the state’s constitution): “Shall (Here insert name of Justice or Judge) of (Here insert the title of the court) be retained in Office?” Said question shall be followed by the words “YES” and “NO”.”

A member of the Oklahoma Senate, however, wants more information to be placed on the ballot. Per SB 971 as introduced below the “shall…be retained in Office?” language would appear.

  • The age of the justice or judge as of the date of the General Election
  • The number of years served in the position as justice or judge
  • The name of the Governor who originally appointed the justice or judge to the court

SB 971 has bee prefiled for the 2018 session set to start in February.

Oklahoma: House adopts resolution directing Oklahoma Supreme Court to not “interfere” with state’s abortion laws

I previously mentioned Oklahoma HR 1004 that addresses abortion laws in the state and, in effect, directed the state’s judiciary to stay out of the subject. That resolution has now passed the House.

HR 1004 as adopted by voice vote starts by rejecting the U.S. Supreme Court cases dealing with abortion, citing specifically Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. It then calls on state public officials, including judges and justices specifically, to “exercise their authority as appropriate in their respective jurisdictions to stop the murder of innocent unborn children by abortion.”

The next paragraph, however, is specifically directed at state judges.

THAT Oklahoma judges and specifically justices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court are directed not to interfere with this Legislature’ s right to clarify Oklahoma criminal law regarding abortion per Section 36 of Article V of the Oklahoma Constitution.

That particular section of the state’s constitution deals with the legislature’s power.

The authority of the Legislature shall extend to all rightful subjects of legislation, and any specific grant of authority in this Constitution, upon any subject whatsoever, shall not work a restriction, limitation, or exclusion of such authority upon the same or any other subject or subjects whatsoever.

The resolution appears to target two decisions by the Oklahoma Supreme Court from late 2016:

  • In October 2016, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a 2015 law (SB 642 of 2015) that dealt with restrictions on abortions (parental consent for minors, tissue preservation, inspection of clinics, and legal liability of abortion providers). That decision was 9-0.
  • In December 2016 the court again ruled 9-0 that a law requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have hospital admitting privileges (SB 1848 of 2014) was also unconstitutional.

Oklahoma: House and Senate appear to near agreement on restructuring state’s supreme court seats; bills specify 2 at-large justices come from counties with a population under 75,000

A plan to redistrict the Oklahoma Supreme Court appears nearing House and Senate agreement, with the House’s plan to require justices from more rural counties winning the day.

Currently the 9 members of the Supreme Court are appointed from 9 districts, but run statewide for yes/no retention elections.

HB 1925 as approved by the House last month and by the Senate Judiciary committee earlier this week would provide that starting in November 2017

  • 5 justices would be appointed, 1 for each Congressional District as constituted on November 1, 2017. For transition purposes, the current seats from Districts 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 would turn into Congressional-District based seats.
  • 4 justices appointed at-large, however 2 justices must come from counties with a population of less than 75,000. The current seats from Districts 2, 7, 8, and 9 would transition to at-large.

The justices would still run statewide for yes/no retention elections.


Special Edition: Oklahoma fee/fine/cost legislation in the 2017 session

HB 1361 Prohibits imprisonment of defendants for nonpayment of fines, costs, fees and assessment. In House Judiciary – Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee.

HB 1476 Provides “It is the policy of this state that no person shall be incarcerated for debt.” Deletes authority of trial court to convert sentences to pay a fine, cost, fee, or assessment into jail sentences. Repeals provision allowing court to send nonpayment notice to Department of Public Safety in order to recommend suspension of driving privileges. In House Judiciary – Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee.

HB 2289

  • Authorizes courts to waive outstanding fines, costs and fees under certain circumstances.
  • Provides payment/installment plans ordered by court may not exceed 10% of “discretionary income” and defines “discretionary income” as 150% over federal poverty line.
  • Directs Supreme Court to promulgate rules related to reporting and payment requirements and collection and distribution methods.
  • Provides for the establishment of pilot financial obligation payment program to determine whether offenders can make consistent payments of their court-ordered financial obligations for two (2) years in exchange for a waiver of the remaining fines, fees and court costs.

In House Appropriations and Budget Committee, Public Safety Subcommittee.

SB 121 Provides the court may adopt an alternative procedure for collecting an outstanding payment in misdemeanor cases. In Senate Judiciary Committee.


  • Directs automatic 12 month deferral of certain fines, fees and court costs for certain individuals recently released from imprisonment.
  • Allows after 12 months for court to waive fines, fees, and costs outright, extend deferral, or enter into payment plan.

Approved as amended by Senate Judiciary Committee 2/21/17.


Provides if defendant convicted in municipal criminal court of record for violation of city ordinance is without means to pay the fine or costs, and no undue hardship would result, the municipal judge may direct the defendant to perform community service at a rate of not less than the current federal minimum wage.

Approved by full Senate 2/20/17.


Creates task force to analyze fines, fees and court costs assessed throughout criminal justice process. Requires task force report by November 30, 2019 on

  1. The percentage of owed fees, fines and costs that are actually paid;
  2. How local and state governmental budgets are supported by fees, fines and costs;
  3. How fees, fines and costs contribute to jail and prison populations; and
  4. Recommendations for improvement to the existing system.

Approved by full Senate 3/22/17.


  • Provides absent a finding of willful nonpayment by the offender, the failure of an offender to pay fines and costs may not serve as a basis for revocation or probation.
  • Authorizes courts to waive outstanding fines, costs and fees under certain circumstances.
  • Provides payment/installment plans ordered by court may not exceed 10% of “discretionary income” and defines “discretionary income” as 150% over federal poverty line.

Approved by full Senate 3/21/17.


Creates Corrections and Criminal Justice oversight task force. Requires Department of Corrections deliver to task force data on, among other things, the amount and percentage of discretionary income each person under DOC supervision or control pays monthly that goes towards court fees, fines, and costs and the number of supervision extensions made due to failure to pay fines and fees.

Approved by full Senate 3/21/17.

Oklahoma: Senate approves 37-3 bill to require all District Court nominees have tried at least 3 jury trials; no other state has such a provision

A plan (discussed here) to require nominees for Oklahoma’s main trial court (District) have jury trial experience has cleared the Senate.

Many, but not all, states require their judges be “attorneys” or in some cases “practicing attorneys”. And the Oklahoma constitution already requires “a minimum of four years’ experience as a licensed practicing attorney” or service as a judge of some other court of record before taking to the District Court bench. The same constitutional provision also allows the legislature to add to these criteria (“and shall have such additional qualifications as may be prescribed by statute.”)

Under SB 708 of 2017 those “additional qualifications” would now include “experience as lead counsel in a minimum of three (3) jury trials brought to verdict prior to filing for such office or appointment.” No other state has such a trial-experience provision.

SB 708 having passed the Senate 37-3 on March 21 has been sent to the House.