NORMAN — County legislators have apparently reached an agreement to add an additional District Judge for Cleveland, Garvin and McClain counties.
The position will be filled during the next election cycle, according to a press release Tuesday from State Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and State Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, Chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.
Martin said the agreement unveiled on Tuesday will help the court system better address the large number of caseloads received.
“This additional judge, when elected, will provide much-needed relief to the court docket, which currently is meeting and exceeding capacity,” Martin said. “It was a pleasure working with Senator Sykes to develop a solution for this critical problem of reducing caseloads. I appreciate his leadership on this issue. Putting the decision in the hands of the voters is prudent and I am confident that they will select a qualified individual to serve on the bench. This agreement represents a major victory for the citizens of Cleveland, Garvin and McClain counties.”
Sykes said he was happy that the people will be making the decision.
“The prior versions that contained the effective date of January 12, 2015 were unacceptable.”
Two prior versions that had been proposed would have transferred a judicial position from District 22, which includes Hughes, Pontotoc and Seminole counties, to District 21, with Cleveland, Garvin and McClain counties, on January 12, 2015. Under this scenario, residents of Seminole County would have filed for office in April 2014, one would have been elected in November 2014, sworn into office on January 12, 2015, then the judgeship would have been abolished the next day. This would have led to court challenges and guaranteed that the Judicial Nominating Commission process would have been utilized to fill the new District 21 position. The appointed judge could then stand for re-election as the incumbent in the next election cycle.
“The only explanation for creating an elected office immediately after an election is that you don’t want the people to be part of the process,” Sykes said. “I am a firm believer that all power in our government comes from the consent of the governed and that the people should choose their leaders. It is sad that critics did not care enough to read the three page bill or two page amendment and notice that the people were being cut out of the process in both of these prior versions.”
State Rep. Aaron Stiles, an attorney who practices in Cleveland County and had worked to get the new position, said the move is good for the citizens and businesses. It also makes fiscal sense as the office costs $1.6 million a year to operate.
“Everybody had ideas on how to get it done. I give Sen. Sykes a lot of credit. It not only saves money but it saves businesses a lot of time and saves our jail overcrowding in Cleveland County,” he said.