Unbiased Judiciary

Fifth Down and Goal to Go

Fifth Down and Goal to Go - June 9, 2019

State Representative David Perryman

For decades, the officials of the old Southwest Football Conference were considered the most biased in the game. The fact was if was nearly impossible for a gridiron team to escape stadiums in Houston, Dallas, Waco, Lubbock, Austin, Fort Worth or Fayetteville with a victory. But what has been referred to as one of the most egregious calls in the history of college football occurred during a Big 8 match on October 6, 1990 on Faurot Field in Columbia, Missouri, the home of the Missouri Tigers and while it decided the outcome of the game, the beneficiary of the call was not the home team.

Instead, the Colorado Buffaloes were allowed two running plays and two spiked passes before Buff backup quarterback Charles Johnson scored on what the officials thought was a “fourth and goal” play from inside the one yard line. In the aftermath of the 33-31 “win” Colorado went on to win the conference title and was recognized by the Associated Press as the 1990 National Champions.

Even though the error was apparently an honest mistake, Big 8 Commissioner Carl James suspended J.C. Louderback and his entire officiating crew indefinitely, The logic was simple, mistake or otherwise, the outcome of athletic contests in our society are far too important to allow those who apply the rules to arbitrarily determine the results.

Compare and contrast that to our judicial system. Judicial reform in the 1960’s has provided Oklahoma with an exceptionally fair system that has placed thousands of qualified and unbiased jurists on the bench all across our state. The process of selecting fair judges is important because of the real impact that judges make in the lives of people and families whose cases appear on their dockets.

Our system of government survives only when the legislative, executive and judicial branches are allowed to properly and independently execute their individual functions. The naturally resulting checks and balances allow government to stay in sync and provide the services and protections to which its citizens are entitled.

When a government falls out of sync or is pushed out of sync by politically motivated groups, its citizens suffer. Key to the judicial branch is the freedom to impose Orders of legal equity that will hold parties accountable for actions that harm others or society as a whole. Oklahomans must diligently guard against organized efforts that are calculated to impede the ability of judges to equitably address damages, injuries and overreach by those who seek to place themselves above the law and make them less accountable to others.

In Oklahoma, the effort has not only capped damages to which injured persons are entitled, it has made it more cumbersome for an injured person to file an action. Those who seek to protect corporate interests have gone so far as to identify and target judges who they feel have made decisions that are not “business friendly.” An analysis of the litigation and the standards used clearly shows that the definition of “business friendly” is the antithesis of “good for people.”

Not to be left out, the oil and gas industry has devoted millions of dollars to rank judges and justices based on decisions made in environmental cases categorizing them as either “a positive decision for the state’s economy” or “not a positive decision for the state’s economy.” For example, evaluators gave a negative ranking to a judge who determined that individuals exposed to toxic chemicals by an electric transformer explosion had a right to sue the manufacturer for compensation for their injuries. A judge who held that the Oklahoma Water Resources Board lacked the jurisdiction to order a company to clean up polluted waters after a pipeline rupture received a positive rating.

While most people simply want a fair umpire on the sports field or an unbiased judge in the courtroom, there are groups that are actively investing millions of dollars in hopes of getting back many times that amount by tilting the scales of justice decidedly in their favor.

Questions or comments, please call or write 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

The Hero of Haarlem

The Hero of Haarlem…For the Common Good - April 13, 2014

State Representative David Perryman

“Trudging stoutly along by the canal,” as the story goes, the eight year old son of a Dutch sluicer was returning home from delivering cakes to a blind man. Humming as he passed the dikes, he noticed that recent rains had made his father’s job even more important.

In fact, because a large portion of Holland was below sea level, the job his father did was essential.  Sluicers faced the responsibility of manipulating the water levels by using a series of gates, dikes and canals to protect the villages and countryside from flooding.

The young boy was proud of his father’s brave old gates and their strength and pondered briefly how sluicers always referred to the danger of “angry waters” inundating the land.  Suddenly the child noticed that he still had a distance to go and the sun was setting.  He quickened his pace as he remembered nursery tales of children lost in forests.

Deciding to run the rest of the way home, he was just then startled by the sound of trickling water. Up the side of the dike he noticed a small hole through which a tiny stream of water was flowing.

Any child in Holland would have realized the danger, but no child was more aware of the “angry waters” than the son of a sluicer. “Quick as a flash, he saw his duty,” and almost before he knew it, he thrust his chubby little finger into the hole and stopped the flow.

Initially, he was proud of the fact that he was doing his part in holding back the “angry waters” and that his hometown of Haarlem would not be drowned while he was there. The remainder of the chapter entitled “Friends in Need” in Mary Mapes Dodge’s 1865 novel “Hans Brinker; or the Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland” illustrates the boys overnight experience.

The story relates the physical and mental anguish and the battle against numbing cold that the young boy encountered, awkwardly perched halfway up the dike all night long until he was discovered at daybreak, in pain and despair yet alive and ultimately well, by a passing priest.

While the boy is never named, the author subtitled the story within the story as, “The Hero of Haarlem.”

This legislative session, there is a desperate need for persons with the character of the young Dutch boy.  There are a number of bills that need to be turned back like the “angry waters.”  The bills deal with an overt attempt to politicize Oklahoma’s judiciary.  Most were filed in response to the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s determination that last year’s legislature failed to comply with the single subject rule in the Oklahoma Constitution.

To understand the current situation, one must understand the not too distant past. For decades prior to the 1960’s, county and appellate judges were selected by purely political means and many judges served accordingly.  That is not to say that there were not good, honest men and women who served on the bench at various levels with the utmost integrity. 

However, the design of the system was such that judicial appointments were so politicized that undue influence was always a strong possibility and often a reality.  As a result in the early 1960’s the state was rocked by a judicial scandal of impropriety and corruption that reached the highest levels of Oklahoma’s judiciary.

With a goal of achieving a fair and impartial judiciary, Oklahoma’s Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) was formed.  The Commission has worked well.  It began functioning in 1969 and nominates a pool of three candidates out of which the Governor may select one for appointment to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Court of Appeals, District and Associate District Judgeships, and the Workers' Compensation Court. The JNC has jurisdiction to determine whether the qualifications of nominees to hold judicial office have been met.

The JNC has fifteen members who serve without compensation. Only six of the members may be lawyers.  The six lawyer members are elected from six districts of the state by all of the attorneys residing or practicing in that region. Nine members are non-lawyers. Six of the non-lawyers are appointed by the Governor, one from each of the districts. Of the six members named by the Governor, not more than three can belong to any one political party and none can have a lawyer from any state in their immediate family.

One of the three remaining non-lawyers is appointed by the Senate President Pro Tempore, one is appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and one is selected by the other members of the JNC. Of these three members, not more than two can be from the same political party.

The JNC was designed to be as free from partisan influence as possible and to allow litigants to be assured that the judge hearing their case would not be biased or beholden to either party or to an industry or special interest group.  It has fulfilled that goal.

Senate Bill 1988 seeks to change the composition of the JNC by having the six lawyers on the JNC that are currently elected by their peers on a written ballot, instead, appointed in a purely political manner by the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tempore.  Fortunately, a statewide outcry with calls and emails to the Capitol stopped the Bill from progressing out of the House Judiciary Committee for the time being.

However, proponents of the change have inserted the language politicizing the process into Senate Joint Resolution 21 and passed it out of the House Rules Committee by a 6-1 vote. While the breach created by SB1988 has been plugged, citizens must keep their eye on it and also pay heed to SJR21.

According to the storyteller, the spirit of the sluicer’s son represented the spirit of Holland in that “Not a leak can show itself anywhere, either in its politics, honor, or public safety, that a million fingers are not ready to stop it, at any cost.”  Oh, for that spirit to be present in Oklahoma…For the Common Good.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as a State Representative.  If there is anything that I can do to assist you, call me at 405-557-7401 or email me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov. I look forward to hearing from you soon.