Oklahoma Civil Justice Council



What is the Oklahoma Civil Justice Council?

The State Chamber of Oklahoma, in partnership with other chambers and trade organizations, created the Oklahoma Civil Justice Council (OCJC) four years ago to serve as an educational tool for the public to learn more about our courts and judges, as well as to promote fairness and equity in Oklahoma's civil justice system.

Why do we need OCJC?

Over the past several years we have seen the need to 1) file lawsuits to protect Oklahoma business interests throughout the state, and 2) file amicus briefs in appeals to the Oklahoma and U.S. Supreme Courts as a result of very damaging lawsuits. With the passage of new tort reform laws, along with workers’ compensation reforms and continuing employment law issues, we expect to be asked to file other amicus briefs in the near future. 

We have also seen a need for a system of judicial evaluation develop across the country and anticipate the need for such an evaluation program in Oklahoma. The U.S. Chamber Of Commerce’s National Chamber Litigation Center has been involved for years in filing lawsuits and amicus briefs on issues critical to American business. In addition, their Institute for Legal Reform has been active in the area of judicial evaluations. 

We believe it’s time to do the same for Oklahoma.

How does OCJC help Oklahomans?

The expansion of civil liability by our courts adversely impacts every Oklahoman. Higher awards on frivolous lawsuits raise the insurance rates on everyone. Our goal in presenting these evaluations is to educate Oklahoma citizens and voters on how our judges are voting on cases appealed to them.

In Oklahoma, appellate court judges are on the ballot in November, and voters have a right to as much information as possible before voting to retain (or not to retain) these judges. Voters need to know that judges looking at the very same set of facts with the same rule of law to guide them often rule in differing ways.

Voters deserve to know if our judges are following the constitution and deciding cases based on the laws passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor—or if they are expanding liability and creating new law. OCJC’s Judicial Evaluation arms you the voter with the facts.

Are EJR and JEI endorsing any of the members of the Oklahoma Supreme Court based on these ratings?

Thu, 08/02/2012 - 17:03 -- lwheeler

No. We hope to contribute to a more informed public discussion. In the past, citizens typically had little or no information on the records of their judges. Information they did have tended to be anecdotal and limited to a highly publicized case or two. This did not constitute a sound basis for assessing a judge's record. It also was unfair to the judges. Oklahoma citizens now will have reliable, empirical judicial ratings of their supreme court.

What do EJR and JEI mean when they suggest that the rapid spread of liability in recent decades has harmed American institutional life?

Thu, 08/02/2012 - 17:00 -- lwheeler

They mean that towns and schools and churches will be better able to ask, "How can we serve the people?" - if they don't have to ask first, "Will a lawsuit and a surprise ruling ruin us?" They mean that higher scoring judges have fostered a legal climate in which fewer of citizens' dollars have to be spent to protect against lawsuits, a society that lets voluntary associations and families concentrate more on their essential purposes and less on avoiding lawyers and litigation.

What do EJR and JEI believe are the practical implications of restraint in the area of civil liability?

Thu, 08/02/2012 - 16:55 -- lwheeler

A small business can plan its growth better when the body of law that governs its activities and responsibilities is steady, clear and predictable. Businesses of all sizes are more likely to locate and expand in Oklahoma if they know they will be in a legal climate where the courts can be relied on to give statutes the meaning that the legislature appears to have intended. Towns and colleges and not-for-profits will have lower litigation budgets.

Aren't fairness and impartiality the most important traits for a judge?

Thu, 08/02/2012 - 16:51 -- lwheeler

Without question, fairness and impartiality are the first qualities we should expect all our judges to strive for. Rating fairness - even defining fairness - is virtually impossible, however. Every judge would claim to be fair and impartial in every case, but still we have split decisions in which judges disagree.

Are EJR and JEI saying they want judges to give a higher priority to slowing down the spread of liability than to impartially and proper application of the law?

Thu, 08/02/2012 - 16:47 -- lwheeler

Absolutely not. Nor are we saying it is preferable for a judge to have a 100% rating. If a common sense, faithful reading of a statute or the common law says that a certain injured person should be compensated for that injury, or that one business or not-for-profit agency has somehow wronged another person or entity, we believe that is how a judge should decide the case. EJR and JEI want judges to follow the law and do justice. As indicated above, it is principally when judges do not agree that this evaluation studies and critiques their decisions.

What criteria were used to evaluate the judges on the Oklahoma Supreme Court?

Thu, 08/02/2012 - 16:41 -- lwheeler

EJR and JEI believe that an inordinate spread of civil liability has harmed American economic and institutional life. EJR and JEI have developed strict criteria for evaluating judges objectively from this point of view. The report includes cases spanning a period of years to provide the best understanding of a judge's philosophy in cases affecting the spread of liability in our society.

Do EJR and JEI have a point of view?

Thu, 08/02/2012 - 16:33 -- lwheeler

Yes. EJR and JEI evaluate these judges from a particular substantive-policy point of view. The fundamental policy premise behind the evaluations is that the extremes of expansion of civil liability in the American courts over recent decades inhibit growth, discourage enterprise, and change for the worse the way we conduct our personal and professional lives. Judge-made law in the state courts has created much of this liability expansion and many of its destructive features.


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