The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals is probably the most
misunderstood appellate court in the state. Although its
name leaves no doubt about the type of cases it reviews,
there is a mistaken public perception that its members all
too often set convicted felons free and delay court-imposed
The reality is the court affirms or dismisses more than
90 per cent of the juvenile, misdemeanor and felony appeals
it receives annually from district and municipal courts.
And in those cases where the court has reversed a conviction,
the defendant has virtually always been re-convicted.
If the Court of Criminal Appeals does have a philosophical
bent it is a conservative one. This is due in large part
to Gov. Henry Bellmon's three appointments to the five-member
panel - the most any governor has made since statehood.
His appointees - Gary Lumpkin, Charles Johnson and James
Lane - have filed for retention and The Tribune believes
all three should remain on the court.
Since his appointment in late 1988, Lumpkin has shown himself
to be a quiet jurist who carefully - some say slowly - reviews
each case before casting his vote. He is considered a strong
conservative when it comes to the law, but a progressive
judge as well. As a district judge in Madill, Lumpkin was
one of the first jurists in Oklahoma to sentence non-violent
offenders to work for non-profit agencies, county governments
and school boards. Of all the appellate judges seeking retention
Nov. 6, Lumpkin is possibly the best of the lot.
Johnson is the newest member of the court, replacing longtime
justice Hez Bussey, who resigned last year for health reasons.
Johnson had never before been a judge, but he had a long
and productive career as an attorney in Ponca City. While
it is too early to judge Johnson's performance on the court,
other appellate judges speak highly of him, and The Tribune
knows of no reason why he shouldn't be retained.
Initial impressions of Lane leave visitors with the feeling
he is a good old boy who likes to talk, either about himself
or the law. Lane is that, but he is much more. While Lane
will never be accused of being the most polished writer
on the court, his opinions are filled with common sense.
He also has led an effort to reduce a growing backlog of
appeals, including those involving inmates on death row.
It is an injustice, to both the defendant and the public,
for two years to pass before routine appeals are decided.
His work in that area alone is reason enough to retain Lang
along with his colleagues.