State website project to provide judicial ratings, comes with opposition

Tulsa - For years there have been complaints on the national level that some judges legislate from the bench.

The most recent case under the microscope was the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling to uphold Pres. Obama's health care law.

For some it was a shock, and drew strong reaction.

"What is with this court today," said congresswoman Michelle Bachmann.

Now there is an effort in a number of states, including Oklahoma, to provide more information about the rulings judges hand down.

The state chamber will soon be launching what they call the Oklahoma Civil Justice Council.

It will be part of their website, and they will rate judges similar to what they have done with state lawmakers for years. Morgan says they will rate judges on how they rule, and if they are more likely to side with businesses or individuals.

"Our members want info and we are going to give that to the public," said Fred Morgan, president of the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce. "Most of the public doesn't know anything about appellant court judges and I used to get calls all the time saying who do I vote for."

But some, like Tulsa attorney Clark Brewster, are skeptical the plan will offer bi-partisan information.

"More information is always good. It's skewed information that I think is bad," he said. "I don't think it's to deliver factual content to the public as much as it is to cause a chilling effect on the judiciary."

To him, this rating system seems more political in nature.

"This is just one more attempt to gain more power and that is to intimidate the judiciary. I think it's a very bad idea."

The chamber disagrees.

"I think we've had the usual bashing from the trial lawyers, who are punching back against it," Morgan said. "But that's what I would expect from trial lawyers who have had a great role in which judges are selected."

This is quickly becoming a polarizing issue for the two groups.

"I think what we would like to see is courts that are fair, that are going to look at what case law has been in the past and what the statutes say and interpret those directly and correctly instead of expanding beyond what the law has been in the past.," Morgan said.

"We're supposed to have a legislature, an executive and a judiciary. In this state, they have the legislature.  They have the executive. Now, they want the judiciary," Brewster said.

The chamber plans to release its ratings prior to the November election.

 

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