Judicial Reform

Ray Carter | April 12, 2024

Democratic donors dominate OBA leadership

Ray Carter

In their defense of the secretive Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC), which selects major Oklahoma judges, officials with the Oklahoma Bar Association (OBA) have claimed the commission removes politics from the process.

OBA President Miles Pringle recently declared the JNC has “historically demonstrated that it is the best possible method” of ensuring “nonpartisanship.”

Of the 15 members of the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission, which controls major judicial appointments in Oklahoma, six are selected by the Oklahoma Bar Association through an internal election of its membership. No other attorneys are allowed to serve.

Contrary to the claims of officials with the OBA, however, there is a great deal of partisanship embedded in the system—because it is embedded in the OBA.

Public records show that 22 of the 32 JNC members selected by the Oklahoma Bar Association from 2000 to today (nearly 69 percent) have directed most of their campaign donations to Democrats, including to presidential candidates like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Only one bar member serving on the JNC since 2000 overwhelmingly donated to Republican candidates.

That trend has continued with the latest batch of Oklahoma Bar Association members serving on the JNC, five of whom are registered Democrats. One of the bar association’s current JNC members, David K. Petty, was a campaign donor to the Democratic presidential campaigns of Obama in 2012 and Clinton in 2016, as well as the  Oklahoma Democratic gubernatorial campaigns of Drew Edmondson in 2018 and Joy Hofmeister in 2022.

It’s not surprising the Oklahoma Bar Association’s JNC members are often Democratic partisans. Campaign-donation records show the OBA’s leadership is also stacked with Democratic partisans.

Of the 17 members of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s board of governors, public records indicate that nine have been campaign donors to Democratic candidates. Only three members have donated exclusively to Republican candidates, and those have often been small sums in minor races.

Pringle is among those Democratic partisans. Records show he has been a campaign funder for Democratic candidates that include President Joe Biden, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Edmondson, and Democratic caucus leaders in both the state House and state Senate.

Similarly, OBA Vice President Amber Peckio has made campaign donations to former Democratic presidential candidate Hilliary Clinton, Edmondson, and various state and congressional Democratic campaigns.

Others on the OBA’s board of governors have done the same—including some board members who are registered as Republicans but have focused their campaign donations on Democratic candidates.

Angela Ailles Bahm has been a campaign donor to prominent Democratic lawmakers.

Timothy L. Rogers helped fund Edmondson’s campaign, as did OBA board member Chad A. Locke.

Jeff D. Trevillion has made campaign donations to a prominent Democratic state House lawmaker as well as Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

OBA board John E. Barbush is a registered Republican, according to records, but has been a campaign donor for Democratic campaigns, including that of former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman.

Allyson E. Dow is also a registered Republican, but Dow donated money to the campaign of former state House Democratic Leader Emily Virgin.

S. Shea Bracken is a registered Republican who recently filed as a candidate in a GOP primary, challenging incumbent state Rep. Denise Crosswhite Hader of Piedmont. But public records show that Bracken helped fund the 2022 campaign of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joy Hofmeister. There are no records indicating Bracken has donated to any Republican candidates.

One member of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Board of Governors, Philip Hixon, is married to Stacie Hixon, a judge on Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals. She was placed on the court after being selected by the JNC.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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