December 2009 Editorial Winner

Let a very bad idea for courts go
David Gerard, Muskogee Phoenix
December 23, 2009

Some bad ideas won't go away as much as you wish they would, and one bad idea won't go away here in Oklahoma.

Two state legislators continue to push for more legislative control over the courts. Reps, Mike Reynolds, R Oklahoma City, and Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, say they will file a bill in the 2010 legislative session to give the Legislature greater authority to remove judges and require strict adherence to jury sentences,

Reynolds and Ritze, along with many Oklahomans, were upset at some court decisions this past year, most notably, a one-year jail term for a man convicted of raping a 4year-old girl.

What Reynolds, Ritze and many Oklahomans failed to appreciate is the sentence was a plea agreement that originated in the district attorney's office in Pittsburg County and had the approval of the victim's family. It is very easy to become indignant over some court decisions and sentences that seem unfair and unreasonable without looking at the circumstances that led to those decisions and sentences.

We don't say we agree with the one year jail term either. But the problem is not with the judge, but with the way our overloaded court system has developed - it is quicker, easier and less costly financially and emotionally to make a deal than to prosecute in a jury trial. That's a problem that's not as easy to fix, but that's what Reynolds and Ritze ought to try fixing.

Instead, they are looking for a quick fix that if approved, makes people think the problem is resolved but doesn't even begin to address it.

It also would create a worse problem - legislators controlling courtrooms. We would rather that Oklahoma judges are more concerned about dispensing justice than pleasing legislators.

Let the appeals courts and the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints do their jobs -which is check on the jobs that judges are doing -an d let legislators do theirs which does not involve judicial duties.