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Judicial Reform Tops OK House Speaker's Wish List

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OKLAHOMA CITY -

Overhauling the process for selecting appellate justices tops next year's agenda for House Speaker T.W. Shannon.

Shannon (R-Lawton), Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman (R-Sapulpa), Rep. Joe Dorman (D-Rush Springs) and Sen. Sean Burrage (D-Claremore) addressed their 2014 legislative session priorities during the State Chamber's Public Affairs Forum Wednesday. Topics included judicial reform, Common Core academic standards, merit pay for state employees, and tax incentives for oil drilling.

Shannon ripped plaintiffs attorneys' "stranglehold" on the state.

"The third branch of government should not be in the policymaking business," he said, calling changes to judicial selection "the number one issue for me" in the upcoming session.

The state's highest court has invalidated a number of laws that passed with strong Republican support, including abortion restrictions and the 2009 lawsuit reform package that violated the state constitution's logrolling prohibition. Legislators returned for a five-day special session in September to restore the changes.

Burrage emphasized that the courts are an equal branch of government and not a state agency that the Legislature can command.

"I don't think a group of people should be punished for carrying out their job in the proper way," he said.

Shannon on the other hand, proposes term or age limits for justices of the state's high court. He also calls for changes to the Judicial Nominating Commission, saying it shouldn't be the only entity to choose the top three candidates to send to the governor.

Currently, appellate judges are chosen by the Judicial Nominating Commission, a 15-member body that vets candidates and forwards them to the governor for appointment. Nine members of the commission must be non-lawyers.

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