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A conservative court // Court of Criminal Appeals judges should be retained

A conservative court // Court of Criminal Appeals judges should be retained

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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

death sentences.

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.

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