Judicial Reform

Liberal Democrat takes role with Oklahoma Bar Association

Ray Carter | May 8, 2024

One of the most liberal Democrats to serve in the Oklahoma Legislature in recent years has been given a prominent role with the Oklahoma Bar Association that will impact the “future direction for the organization.”

The announcement comes as the bar association’s prominent control of judicial appointments in Oklahoma, via the group’s substantial representation on the Judicial Nominating Committee (JNC), is under growing scrutiny.

Under the current judicial-selection process mandated in Oklahoma, a governor cannot select his or her own judicial nominees based on merit. Instead, the 15-member Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) controls judicial appointments.

Of the 15 members of the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission, internal membership elections of the Oklahoma Bar Association select six JNC members. No other attorneys are allowed to serve.

Public records show that 22 of the 32 individuals appointed to the JNC 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 such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Only one bar appointee to the JNC since 2000 overwhelmingly donated to Republican candidates.

The partisanship of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s JNC appointees is shielded from public exposure by the structure of the JNC. The JNC does not hold public meetings. The group does not interview judicial candidates in public. And the commission does not reveal how members vote on judicial nominees.

The Oklahoma Bar Association’s leadership is also heavily dominated by Democratic partisans, including numerous Democratic donors.

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, including OBA President Miles Pringle who has been a campaign funder for Democratic candidates that include President Joe Biden, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Drew Edmondson, and Democratic caucus leaders in both the state House and state Senate.

Recently, Pringle informed Oklahoma attorneys that their mandatory dues were being increased by 45 percent. (Attorneys are required to be members of the Oklahoma Bar Association to be licensed in Oklahoma.)

As part of that announcement, Pringle wrote that the dramatic increase “allows the OBA to keep its best personnel and invest in future talent.”

Former state Rep. Collin Walke, D-Oklahoma City, was prominently featured in the announcement. Pringle wrote that the OBA has “reorganized the OBA Technology Committee and appointed Collin Walke as chair to review what the OBA does today and recommend a future direction for the organization.”

Walke was among the most left-wing members of the Oklahoma Legislature in recent years, according to independent evaluations.

Throughout his entire legislative career, Walke voted the conservative position just 22.38 percent of the time, according to an evaluation from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

A rating released by the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper found Walke voted conservative just 14 percent of the time throughout his service.

Now in the private sector again, Walke is the attorney representing a plaintiff seeking to have Oklahoma’s “Energy Discrimination Elimination Act of 2022” struck down.

That law requires the office of the state treasurer to conduct a review of investment firms to identify those that boycott investments in oil-and-gas companies regardless of the impact on investment returns. State entities cannot contract with firms on that list.

The purpose of the law is twofold. First, it prevents firms from profiting off Oklahoma taxpayers while simultaneously working to reduce economic growth in Oklahoma. Second, it ensures that state pension assets are used to maximize retiree benefits, not push anti-energy political agendas.

Because of the JNC’s history of injecting Democratic partisanship into Oklahoma’s judicial-selection process, even during many years when state voters overwhelmingly elected Republicans as governor, an effort was made this year to reform the process.

Senate Joint Resolution 34, by state Sen. Julie Daniels and state Rep. Mark Lepak, would allow Oklahoma voters to eliminate the Judicial Nominating Commission and replace it with the U.S. Constitution’s model for judicial selection. Under the replacement system, a governor could select any qualified individual to serve as judge, but legislative confirmation would be required for that person to be seated.

SJR 34 easily passed out of the Oklahoma Senate on a 32-14 vote.

But in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, it failed on a 36-60 vote. Forty-one Republicans joined Democrats to prevent Oklahoma citizens from voting on the proposal, choosing to instead maintain the OBA/Democratic control of judicial selection through 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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