The Norman Transcript

July 27, 2013

Proposal may limit judges’ terms

By Mick Hinton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Cleveland County’s presiding District Judge said a possible move by the Legislature to impose term limits on judges during a special session would not be good for citizens.

Tracy Schumacher said citizens now have the right to vote out of office any judge they do not like.

“It just would not be the right way to pick your judges,” Schumacher said Friday.

Schumacher and 266 other judges across the state received a letter earlier this week from state Sen. Patrick Anderson, an Enid Republican, warning judges that the focus of a possible special session in August or September “is going to be on attacking the judiciary.”

Gov. Mary Fallin proposed a special session after the state Supreme Court issued a 7-2 ruling which invalidated a 2009 tort reform bill because it embraced a myriad of subjects.

Fallin’s office issued a statement Thursday saying that she had no plans to consider the way judges are selected in the event of a special session being called, according to an Associated Press story.

Anderson said Friday, “This is good news from the governor.”

However, he said he remains concerned about the wording of the governor's statement, fearing it might leave open the option of considering term limits for judges.

“This was not anything that I dreamed up,” Anderson said. “There is talk out there about this.”

Anderson noted that in the spring session, bills sponsored by state Sen. Clark Jolley addressed both term limits for judges and abolishment of the Judicial Advisory Commission. The measures passed the Senate but were not heard in the House. Sen. Jolley, R-Edmond, could not be reached for comment.

Anderson warned judges in his letter that the special session might do two things dealing with the judiciary:

— Set term limits for judges. A suggestion has been made to limit the judges to 20 years of service. Legislators are now limited to 12 years of service.

— Eliminate the Judicial Nominating Commission that currently sends the names of three judges to the governor when a vacancy occurs. If the commission were eliminated, the governor would have sole authority to make these appointments.

In a separate letter by Anderson sent Thursday to legislators, he said that problems with the Supreme Court ruling were not because of “activist judges.” They had to follow the law that limits bills to a single topic, Anderson said.

After the Supreme Court ruling invalidating the tort reform bill, House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, called for an interim legislative committee to consider term limits for judges.

Meanwhile, Judge Schumacher said term limits for judges or eliminating the nominating commission would politicize the process.

“There is already a process for the removal of a judge and that is an election,” she said.

“You can't have the Legislature calling a special session when they don't like the rulings of the court,” she added. “It is not fair to the citizens.”