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Cockfighting proponents ask justices to recuse themselves

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Cockfighting supporters filed a petition on Friday asking Oklahoma Supreme Court justices to disqualify themselves from hearing a case on whether to validate an anti-cockfighting law.

Those seeking the disqualifications have filed lawsuits in 27 counties to keep State Question 687 from going into effect.

Voters approved the ban in November and the law has been under attack in court since.

Attorney General Drew Edmondson asked the Supreme Court last week to declare the law constitutional. A hearing is set for Feb. 18.

Tulsa attorney Larry Oliver, who represents those opposing the anti-cockfighting law, filed the disqualification application.

In the application, Oliver said the justices previously had heard and finally validated SQ 687 so it could be placed on the November general election ballot.

It also said the application was filed because cockfighters affected by SQ 687 are entitled to a fair, impartial and objective hearing on the constitutional issues regarding SQ 687.

The justices had been asked previously to disqualify from the cockfighting case when they were considering whether to approve it to go on the general election ballot, the application stated.

Justices rejected that challenge, also filed by cockfighting proponents.

Oliver also wrote that the cockfighting issue had been a major news story since opponents circulated an initiative petition to get the issue on an election ballot. He accused the news media of being opposed to cockfighting.

``The justices were apparently influenced by this aggressive anti-cockfighting press, or their own prejudices, in their unanimous rulings against cockfighters in the proceeding, even when such rulings were wholly unjustified or were without legal or factual basis,'' Oliver wrote. ``There does not appear to be any other explanation for the irregular procedures use by the Justices.''

Supreme Court referee Greg Albert, who was assigned by the Supreme Court to hear challenges to the anti-cockfighting petition, entered a finding in 2000 that SQ 687 lacked sufficient valid signatures to be placed on the ballot for a statewide vote.

The Supreme Court eventually ruled that there were sufficient signatures for a statewide vote, Oliver wrote in his application.

Janet Halliburton, chairwoman of the Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting, said there is no reason for the court to step aside, adding that the issue of recusal already has been addressed.

``All he is trying to do is stall,'' Halliburton said of Oliver. ``It is a shame the voters of Oklahoma have not been supported by the immediate enforcement of the law.''

She said the state Supreme Court ultimately will put an end to the ``legal shenanigans.''

Cockfighting proponents say the law is unconstitutional because it is vague and overbroad, restricts the right to travel, violates the Oklahoma Constitution by having multiple subjects and authorizes an unjust taking of property.

District courts have approved restraining orders prevent enforcement of the law, but none has ruled on the merits of the challenges.

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