Messages from OBA President James R. Hicks Regarding SJR 43

May 10, 2022

May 10: Update on SJR 43

As of the writing of this update, Senate conferees have been named, including OBA members Senators Mary Boren, Julie Daniels, Kay Floyd and Brent Howard. As of now, no House conferees have been named. If House conferees are named, the process is for the conferees to agree on common language and the measure to return to each chamber of the Legislature for a vote to approve or reject the Conference Committee report. Should the measure pass both chambers, it would then go to a vote of the people. 

SJR 43, among other things, relates to the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Supreme Court over lawyer discipline and a bifurcated licensing system that calls into question the Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct. The bill grants jurisdiction to the Legislature to license lawyers who do not appear in court. As of now, there is no plan in place to create any licensing structure or ethical standards for lawyers who do not appear in court. This could have a negative effect on the quality of legal services available to the citizens of Oklahoma if persons who are not qualified to give legal advice are granted a license to practice. 

Other language in the joint resolution abolishes the district courts, relates to the selection of justices and judges in the appellate courts and directs “inferior court” elections to be conducted the same as county officials who are currently elected on a partisan basis.

For previous information on the measure, please read the messages below.

May 5: Update on SJR 43

Many of you have asked me to keep you updated on the progression on SJR 43, which I previously messaged about last week. The measure is slated to go to Conference Committee and then a full vote in both houses of the legislature in the near future. If passed by both chambers, it would then go to a vote of the people.

As you may recall, this measure would (among other things) give the Legislature jurisdiction over regulation of portions of the practice of law which could have a direct impact on the quality of legal services. The repeal of the current constitutional language removes the district courts from existence and would completely change how justices and appellate judges are appointed. It would require judicial candidates for “inferior courts” created by the Legislature to run for office like other county offices. The dissolution of the district courts could result in chaos in both civil and criminal matters, costing your clients delays and unanticipated expenditures due to the absence of applicable court rules and procedural statutes.

Given the impact of this legislation on the regulation of the practice of law and the quality of legal services, I thought you might be interested in the progression of this legislation.

April 27: A message from OBA President James R. Hicks regarding proposed changes to the judiciary and the regulation of the practice of law

I want you to be aware of some proposed changes currently being considered by the Oklahoma Legislature. These anticipated changes may impact access to justice and regulation of the practice of law should the measure pass out of the House and be ratified by the Senate and a vote of the people.

Yesterday SJR 43 was placed on the calendar of the Oklahoma State House of Representatives by Speaker Charles McCall. The measure was placed on the calendar without going through the usual committee process. Previously, it passed the Oklahoma Senate. Currently, title is off the bill, and the enacting clause is stricken. Procedurally, this means it likely will go to a House vote, with anticipated amendments, within hours and then return to the Senate for acceptance of the House amendments or proceed to conference committee.

The resolution calls for a vote of the people to repeal Articles 7 and 7B of the Oklahoma Constitution. These articles contain the language making up our current court system and the Judicial Nominating Commission. If passed, a new Article 7C of the Constitution would be enacted that would significantly alter our judicial system and the regulation of the practice of law.

If enacted, the proposed amendments would remove the district courts as they appear currently in the Constitution and would have appellate judges and justices be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. They would still have six-year terms and be subject to retention. All sitting appellate judges and justices would be removed at the end of their current terms and be replaced.

The language also calls for “inferior courts” as created by the Legislature to be elected the same as other county officeholders. Currently, county officeholders run on partisan ballots.

Additionally, the measure calls for a bifurcated licensing system for lawyers divided between those who practice before the courts and those who do not appear in court. Those lawyers who do not appear in court would be licensed and regulated by the Legislature. There is no language in the resolution that dictates the qualifications of those who would be licensed by the Legislature.

Also, there are provisions making all civil appeals go to intermediate appellate courts and establishing quorums for the Oklahoma Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals. The effect of which could be opinions from these courts decided by less than a majority of the courts.

There are other significant changes included in the legislation that I have not addressed here. The hyperlink above will take you to the Oklahoma Legislature website, which includes all versions of the resolution and its history.

Since this matter has not been through the House of Delegates or addressed by the Board of Governors, at this point, the OBA has no official position. In 1967, following the judicial scandal, the OBA endorsed in principle the now-existing constitutional language, which includes merit selection of judges and the creation of the district court system. This resolution would alter the current system.

For more information about the Oklahoma Legislature and other measures being considered this session, go to www.oklegislature.gov.

James R. Hicks
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