Judges Aren’t Talking About Council’s Evaluations

Fred Morgan

Jerry Bohnen
Contributing Editor

Mum’s the word from the dozen judges who make up the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals in the wake of their evaluation by the Oklahoma Civil Justice Council.

The McCarville Report attempted to reach them for comment when the evaluation was released last week. Each was given an opportunity to respond but as of today, not one judge bothered to answer our inquiry.

The evaluations were handled by two groups, the Judicial Evaluation Institute of Washington, D.C. and the Sequoyah Information Systems.

The two did the study for the State Civil Justice Council that is headed by former Senator Fred Morgan. The Council was created by the State Chamber of Commerce (which Morgan heads) along with the Greater Oklahoma City and Tulsa Metro Chambers of Commerce. Several trade groups were also behind the creation. The same Council released an evaluation in September of the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The evaluations were based on how the judges ruled on 231 separate cases. Three judges, Brian Goree, William C. Hetherington, Jr. and P. Thomas Thornbrugh were not evaluated because they were recently appointed to the bench.  And they didn’t take part in many of the 231 cases.

Of the nine remaining judges on the Court of Civil Appeals, Judge John Fischer received the lowest score at 38%. The highest rating went to Judge Kenneth L. Buettner whose score was 91%.

Others rated by the Justice Council and their scores were:  Judge E. Bay Mitchell, III at 78%; Judge Larry E. Joplin, 62%; Judge Jane P. Wiseman, 49%; Judge Robert D. Bell, 48%; Judge Keith Rapp, 46%; Judge Deborah Barnes, 45%; and Judge Jerry L. Goodman, 43%.

A website of the Oklahoma Civil Justice Council explained that the higher the score, the more the judge’s opinions have had the effect of restraining liability.

As head of the Justice Council, Morgan said voters have a right to such information about the judges because the judges are on retention ballots.

Voters will decide next Tuesday whether they want to retain the judges on the Appeals Court or remove them.

The Council’s concern is whether rulings made by the judges will expand liability in the state or stop it.  The group is concerned about the spread of liability.  It also studied whether the appeals court judges raised legal issues and disagreed with judges who made lower court rulings.

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