Eight Oklahoma judges up for retention

The Oklahoma Supreme Court is made up of nine justices. Top row, from left, are: Justice M. John Kane IV, Justice Tom Colbert, Justice Douglas L. Combs, and Justice Dustin P. Rowe. Bottom row, from left, are: Justice James R. Winchester, Vice-Chief Justice Richard Darby, Chief Justice Noma Gurich, Justice Yvonne Kauger, Justice James E. Edmondson. Kane, Colbert, and Darby are up for re-election.

Oklahomans have several decisions to make come the November election, including whether to retain eight judges in the state's judicial system.

Three Oklahoma Supreme Court seats, two Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals seats, and three Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals seats are up for retention election Nov. 3. In a retention election, the judges do not face an opponent.

"Basically, the judge is subject to referendum," said Tiffany Rozell, Cherokee County Election Board secretary. "It's the same time as the general election, and the judge is removed from office if the majority of votes are cast against it."

State Supreme Court Justices M. John Kane IV, Tom Colbert, and Richard Darby are all up for re-election. The high court is one of two courts of last resort in the state. The court of appeal is for non-criminal cases, and is responsible for administering Oklahoma's entire judicial system to establish procedures for the state's other courts.

If the people of Oklahoma choose to retain the justices, they will serve for another six-year term. If voters choose not to retain them, or if a judge declines re-election, the seat becomes vacant at the end of the term and the Judicial Nominating Commission searches for a replacement.

Kane was appointed to the high court in January by Gov. Kevin Stitt. Before his appointment, he had served as a district judge for the 10th Judicial District in Osage County since 2005. He recently dissented from the court's ruling to deny Stitt's request for a rehearing in a case where the court ruled gaming compacts he initiated with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe were invalid.

"The Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes are indispensable parties to this action," wrote Kane. "I would dismiss the case for lack of indispensable parties."

Colbert was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2004 by Gov. Brad Henry. He was retained both in 2008 and 2014. He's the first Black justice to sit on the state's high court. Between 1999 and 2004, Colbert was a judge for the Oklahoma Country of Appeals, and briefly served as the chief judge on that court. He recused himself in Stitt's case regarding the tribal gaming compacts.

Darby was appointed in 2018 by Gov. Mary Fallin. The official previously served as a district court judge in the 3rd Judicial District for 24 years. Darby concurred with the Justice James Winchester in his conclusion that the gaming compacts between Stitt and the two tribes were invalid.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals is the state's court of last resort for criminal proceedings. Similar to the Supreme Court, justices who retain their position serve for another six years. Judges Rob Hudson and Gary Lumpkin are both up re-election.

Hudson was appointed by Gov. Fallin in 2015. Before his appointment, he served as a special district judge for Logan County. He was the chief law enforcement officer for Payne and Logan counties previously.

Lumpkin has served on the court of criminal appeals since 1989, when he was appointed by Gov. Henry Bellmon. He previously served as a Oklahoma district court judge between 1985 and 1989, and prior to that he was an association district judge since 1982.

The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals is assigned cases by the Supreme Court, and is responsible for the majority of appellate decisions. The judges serve initial terms of at least one year after being appointed by the governor, who chooses from a list of three names submitted by the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission, before undergoing a retention election. Regular terms last six years.

Judges Jane Wiseman, Deborah Barnes, and Keith Rapp are all up for election. Wiseman took office when Gov. Henry appointed her in 2005. Her experience before her appointment included serving as a special judge of Tulsa County and as a district judge in District 14, where she worked in the Family Relations Division and also Civil Division.

Barnes was also appointed by Gov. Henry, and she took office in 2008. Prior to her appointment, she was the vice president and associate general counsel for Oneok Inc. in Tulsa, before working in private practice.

Rapp took office for the court of civil appeals in 1984, when he was appointed by Gov. George Nigh. Before his appointment, he was a judge on the 14th District Court.

There is still time for Oklahomans to register to vote, as the deadline to apply for the Nov. 3 election is Oct. 9. Voter registration applications are available at the County Election Board office, 914 S. College Ave., and at most post offices, tag agencies and public libraries in the county. Applications are also available at www.elections.ok.gov.

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