Oklahoma Bar Journal

Our Favorite Time of the Year: Law Day

By Roy D. Tucker

We learned in middle school there are three independent branches of government: the legislative, which makes the laws; the executive, which enforces the laws; and the judicial, which interprets the laws. No one branch is more powerful than the other, ensuring a fair system of checks and balances upon the other. This constitutional framework is most often referred to as the separation of powers doctrine.

This year’s Law Day theme is “Separation of Powers: Framework for Freedom.” It is intended to remind us that balanced power within the government protects our individual freedoms and liberties. It teaches that we must be mindful that this doctrine requires us, as the governed, to continually ensure that these checks and balances are kept sacred through activism, being informed, voting and in one way or another participating in our government. We frequently hear the term “constitutional crises” used by media outlets nationwide to describe actions that are believed to either violate or diminish in some way the balance of power within the government. These instances, if true, should be a terrifying assault to our freedom. As James Madison once said, “[t]he accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

We, as lawyers, are the ensurers of the “check” in the check and balance of power.

One of the primary objectives of Law Day has always been education and reverence for the rule of law. As lawyers, we are necessarily educators. We educate our clients, jurors and, in some cases, opposing counsel. We do it all the time, and by training, excel at it. We should not leave our special talents at our office door.

Being celebrated in Oklahoma since the 1950s, Law Day is an excellent opportunity to share our talents with another generation. It is an opportunity to work with our favorite colleagues, old and new, to do something meaningful and to stir the same fire for the law that we have in our careers.

This year’s Ask A Lawyer program will air Thursday, May 3, at 7 p.m. on OETA, Oklahoma’s public television stations across the state. The topics cover the success of mental health court, estate planning and record expungement. Attorney Courtney Blau will host the show, joining veteran newscaster and attorney Dick Pryor as moderator. We expect this to be one of the best shows yet!

The necessity of mental health court will be discussed by District Attorney David Prater and OKC attorney Catherine Burton. This segment will focus on the too-often ignored problem of mental health and how courts are recognizing the need to punish not only the actions, but also to treat the underlying impetus that lead to those actions.

The estate planning segment will feature attorney Donna Jackson and two of her clients. This segment will focus on the wisdom for planning so that with our passing, our loved ones are not saddled with unnecessary stress and burdens.

The expungement segment will focus on attorney Clint James and his client who will discuss the methods of expunging criminal records and how to use existing law to give individuals a second chance at gainful employment and quality of life.

OBA President Kimberly Hays will talk about the impact the Ask A Lawyer free legal advice project and other community service efforts have on Oklahomans. Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Douglas Combs will share his thoughts on this year’s theme and will recognize the Law Day Contest winners.

More than 900 students from across the state submitted entries focused on this year’s theme, “Separation of Powers: Framework for Freedom.” The entries ranged from writing to coloring and art mediums. A ceremony was held at the Oklahoma Judicial Center on March 27 for first-place winners. Those earning second place or an honorable mention were honored in their home county with the help of their county bar association. See the names of all the winners and their winning entries online at www.okbar.org/lawday or in this issue.

For the 42nd year, we are organizing the Ask A Lawyer community service project, providing free answers to Oklahomans’ legal questions. This year’s project will be Thursday, May 3. Oklahomans will have the option to email their question or to call in and speak to an attorney. Two email addresses have been created – askalawyer@okbar.org and pregunteaunabogado@okbar.org for Spanish-speaking Oklahomans. Participating in Ask A Lawyer is a great way for all Oklahoma lawyers to celebrate Law Day. This annual event gives us the opportunity to provide a much-needed community service while promoting a positive public image of lawyers and the OBA.

The Law Day Committee is also committed to assisting the Hispanic community by offering free legal advice in Spanish. To help ensure we have adequate bilingual coverage, Spanish-speaking callers will be asked to call the statewide toll-free number between 3 and 9 p.m. If you speak Spanish or know lawyers who do, please let us know.

Oklahoma and Tulsa county lawyers will work together to staff the statewide toll-free hotline from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. For other counties, the Law Day Committee works with each county’s Law Day chairperson to establish a network of local county phone numbers in addition to the statewide number. Volunteer lawyers in each participating county staff phones at their local location for a predetermined time period and the numbers are advertised during the Ask A Lawyer TV program.

Anywhere you live or work, your help is needed to make this community service project a success. It takes a total of 30 attorneys for each two-hour shift to fully staff the statewide number. That effort, combined with the local county bars and those answering email questions, creates a huge need for lawyers to step forward.

To volunteer, contact your local county Law Day chairperson, listed in this issue or online at www.okbar.org/lawday.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Douglas Combs is continuing the OBA Law Day tradition of issuing a Law Day Directive, encouraging courts to host Law Day events or to visit schools speaking on the role of the judiciary. Gov. Mary Fallin has also signed a proclamation designating May 3 as Law Day in Oklahoma.

We urge you to participate by volunteering for the Ask A Lawyer event or by contacting your local county bar and participating in the many activities occurring throughout the state. We are always seeking interested lawyers to get involved in the Law Day Committee and will soon be planning next year’s activities. Please let me or committee Co-Chair Kara Pratt know if you are available to lend your expertise Contact us: Roy Tucker, rtucker@muskogeeonline.org; or Kara Pratt, KPratt@BarberBartz.com.

Read John Morris Williams’ call to arms on page 56 and get involved!

Roy D. Tucker is the city attorney for the City of Muskogee and is an associate justice on the Supreme Court of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. He is a past member of the OBA Board of Governors, representing District 7, and is a past chair of the YLD. He is a 2003 graduate of the TU College of Law.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ 89 pg. 6 (April 2018)