High court rejects legislative leaders' bid

Thursday, April 25th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Leaders of the Democratic majority in the Oklahoma Legislature lost their bid Wednesday to have the state Supreme Court take over legal challenges on congressional redistricting.

The petition by legislative leaders was denied without comment in a one-paragraph order signed by Vice Chief Justice Joseph Watt.

The ruling means two trials will start in Oklahoma City in the next several weeks on lawsuits asking courts to step into the redistricting fray.

One trial is set to begin May 13 in district court in Oklahoma County. A second trial is set for June 5 before a three-judge federal panel in Oklahoma City.

Another lawsuit has been filed in Sequoyah County District Court in Sallisaw, but no trial date has been set in that case.

``I'm disappointed. I thought we had a sound application,'' said Lee Slater, former state Election Board secretary who represented Senate President Pro Tem Stratton Taylor in the legislative bid to have the Supreme Court take jurisdiction.

``We were hoping the Supreme Court would consider this issue to allow the Legislature the opportunity to reach an agreement on redistricting,'' said House Speaker Larry Adair, D-Stilwell. ``It is my understanding that the Oklahoma County District Court case will now proceed as scheduled.

``I am still holding out hope that the Legislature can come up with a plan prior to adjournment.''

Republicans and Democrats have been at a stalemate on congressional redistricting since the first of the year.

Gov. Frank Keating, a Republican, has threatened to veto proposals put forth by Democrats, who have a majority in the House and Senate. Republicans also have advanced proposals, but they do not have the votes to get them out of committees.

Oklahoma is losing one of its six members of Congress this year because the state's population did not grow as much as other states.

In oral arguments before a Supreme Court referee earlier this month, attorneys for Adair and Taylor argued there was enough time to reach an agreement and court intervention was not necessary.

Fred A. Leibrock, attorney for Republican Party chairman Chad Alexander, who filed the lawsuit, said lawmakers were stalled and will not be able to enact a plan before the three-day filing period for candidates starts on July 8.

The Legislature is under a constitutional mandate to adjourn by May 31, but lawmakers have adopted resolutions to adjourn a week early.