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.
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.
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.
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’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.
- The definition of “public body” would now include “district court judge”
- The general exemption of records of “judges” would no longer include district court judges.
HB 2867 has been prefiled for the 2018 session.
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.
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.