A race to fill the seat held for many years by District Judge Bill Hetherington has turned into Cleveland County’s roughest political battle of the season.
Two attorneys who worked at the same time in the Cleveland County District Attorney’s office are running neck-and-neck in a contest that will end with the Nov. 2 general election.
Jonathan Nichols, 44, now serving in the state Senate, is locked in a battle with Tracy Schumacher, 40, a defense attorney who is in private practice.
Early in the campaign, the Nichols camp came out with a political flyer stating that Schumacher was “proud of her criminal clients.”
Nichols said in the brochure that he wanted to reveal “the truth about Tracy Schumacher” and tell voters “What (she) doesn’t want you to know.”
He stated that Schumacher was proud of her criminal clients including “murderers,” and that she also defended “child molesters and abusers.”
At the same time, Nichols said, he was writing laws “to protect the victims” including one that “gives the death penalty to child predators” and another “that makes domestic abuse a felony on first offense.”
Remarks by Nichols contained in the flyer caught the attention of the Cleveland County Bar Association, whose members passed a resolution against such ads, by unanimous voice vote.
The resolution did not name Nichols. But, attorney Micheal Salem, who wrote the resolution, confirmed that the senator’s flyer prompted the bar’s action.
The bar association criticized such advertisements or communications “which disparage lawyers for representing such persons,” while the Constitution provides that the American system affords everyone the right to be represented by counsel.
Schumacher said Nichols “has been out of the courtroom for 10 years. Perhaps he has forgotten how things work.”
Nichols told The Transcript several weeks ago that he regretted the tone of the flyer.
Nichols declined to be interviewed for this story.
He had requested that a list of prepared questions be presented to him, which he promised to promptly answer by e-mail. However, no other candidate was given that opportunity. They were interviewed either in person or by phone.
Nichols has served as a Republican senator representing much of Cleveland and McClain counties since 2000.
If elected judge, Nichols would relinquish the last two years of his four-year term. By 2012, Nichols would reach the maximum 12 years of service and be term-limited. Nichols’ wife Talitha is a pharmacist and both of their daughters, Jessica and Rachel, attend school in Norman.
Nichols’ campaign manager, Chad Alexander, pointed out in a phone conversation that Schumacher had failed to inform the state Administrator of the Courts within 10 days of formally announcing her candidacy, a violation of the state Code of Judicial Conduct.
Schumacher said, “I did file mine late,” adding that as soon as she learned it was a requirement, she promptly filed.
“Name and (mailing) address are all you are filing,” Schumacher said.
State courts administrator Michael Evans said, “My guess is Schumacher made an honest mistake.”
The canon states that “A failure to comply with this section shall constitute a per se violation of Canon 5.”
As to whether this constituted a violation of Canon 5 per se, Evans equated the tardiness to someone receiving a traffic ticket.
“They would not be sentenced to prison for something like that,” Evans said.
“Schumacher is not by herself in this matter,” Evans said. Twenty or more candidates — including some sitting judges — fail to file their candidacy in an election cycle.
All of the candidates vying in the Nov. 2 election, are now listed on the state roll, reporting their candidacy, along with the date filed.
Judicial candidate Edward T. Tillery, who was eliminated in the primary race, did not inform the courts administrator, records show. Tillery of Pauls Valley sought the district judge seat serving McClain and Garvin counties.
In the July 27 primary race, Schumacher outpaced Nichols by a vote of 16,736 to 16,127, which was a difference of 609 votes. A third candidate, Michael Bell, received 6,142 votes.
In early June, Nichols told The Transcript, “Because of the Code on Judicial Conduct, I am not allowed to state my party affiliation. And it is important that we follow these rules governing a judicial campaign.”
“But the code does allow me to state that I am a ‘strong conservative’ and my record proves it,” he said.
Nichols said in July he wasn’t surprised that he and Schumacher will be running again in the Nov. 2 general election.
He said, “There was a heavy Democratic turnout in Norman tonight driven by a spirited primary race in House District 44 as well as the primary between Askins and Edmondson.”
Schumacher contended that the Nichols’ comment inferred “like I won because the Democrats are supporting me” but she can’t tell her party affiliation and whether she and Nichols are registered in the same party. She and her husband, Wade Stewart, a vice president of Union Bank in Oklahoma City, are the parents of a son, Jake, 2, and are expecting another child in January.
Judicial candidates are required by the Code of Judicial Conduct to run non-partisan campaigns. Candidates cannot tell voters whether they are Republican, Democrat or Independent.
However, information about any voter’s party affiliation is a public record, as required by state law. Both Nichols and Schumacher are registered as Republicans on voter’s rolls.
The candidates are vying for the district judge seat held by Hetherington since the early 1990s.
Gov. Brad Henry announced in June that he had selected Hetherington as a judge on the state Court of Civil Appeals.
When Hetherington left the Cleveland County court, Special Judge Rod Ring was appointed to finish Hetherington’s term, which expires at the end of 2010. Ring decided that he would not seek a full term in the district judge position.