Justice's replacement to be chosen

Monday, August 4th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The replacement for retiring Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Hardy Summers will be picked through a system that seeks to minimize political influences in the selection process.

The Judicial Nominating Commission will select three candidates for the position and Gov. Brad Henry will make the final decision by selecting one of the three. This system was created by Oklahoma voters in 1967 after a bribery scandal involving the court.

Summers, 70, announced last month that he will retire on Jan. 1.

Chief Justice Joseph M. Watt said that to a large extent the nominating commission has taken politics out of the process for replacing Oklahoma Supreme Court justices.

``The point is you always get qualified folks,'' Watt said.

The nominating commission has six lawyers and seven lay members.

The attorneys on the commission represent each of the six congressional districts that were in existence before the 2002 elections. The attorneys are elected by bar association members in their districts.

The governor appoints six of the lay members, but three must be Democrats and three Republicans.

The attorneys and lay members then elect a seventh lay member who serves at large.

In Supreme Court vacancies, all applicants must come from the district where the vacancy occurred.

In Summers' case, all applicants must come from the eastern Oklahoma district he has represented.

The commission will narrow its list of candidates, interview the remaining applicants and give the governor the names of three it decides are best qualified for the job.

Sometimes people known by a governor make the list and sometimes they don't, said former Gov. George Nigh.

``I never tried to influence who got on the list,'' Nigh said. ``I might encourage someone to apply, but never called (the commission). You'd be crazy if you did. The word would be out.''

Watt thinks the system has worked well.

``I think the most telling thing is we have never had a judge removed from office who has come into office through the Judicial Nominating Commission,'' Watt said.