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Local & Regional

Former judge: Proposed law would see courts get more political

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A local former judge says politics should stay as far from the courtroom as possible.

James Bland was a district judge for 25 years. Now, he’s the chairman of the Judicial Nominating Commission. The commission is a group of 15 people who vet the most powerful judges in Oklahoma.

After an interview process, the commission votes on three candidates to send to the governor, and the governor must pick from that list. Bland said the commission fights collusion by having rules around the voting process.

“We agree that we don’t discuss the vote after the interviews. Also it’s in the rules that one commissioner does not lobby another commissioner on how to vote,” said Bland. “It’s just everybody reviews the information, studies the background checks, does their research, listens to the interviews, and then votes.”

A new proposed law would abolish the commission. SJR 43 replaces the commission with a process mirroring our federal system. Powerful judges in Oklahoma would be picked by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. Bland said you don’t have to look far for problems with that way.

“What I always ask myself in evaluating that, would that change make the system more or less political than it is now? It appears to me that changing it would make it more political. All you have to do is look at that federal system, with the appointment of federal judges, to see how political that can become.”

SJR 43 passed the state Senate with one Republican, Sen. Brent Howard, joining Democrats in opposition.