Thursday, December 23, 2010

Back Story: A Rush To Nominate High Court Justice?

Governor Henry
Will one of Governor Brad Henry's final acts in office be to nominate a new justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court?

There are those today who speculate that will be the case.

A vacancy on the Court came with the death of longtime Justice Marion Opala.

Some would welcome the nomination by the outgoing Democrat, while others much prefer it be left to the new Republican governor, Mary Fallin.

There are those who want Henry to make the nomination, confident they know who he'll nominate. Among those who don't want Henry to make the nomination, there appears to be the same confidence that they know who he'll nominate.

And therein lies the story.

The Judicial Nomination Commission is meeting to interview all 14 candidates for the top judicial post next Tuesday. All 14 interviews, it is said, will be conducted that day. It is speculated the Commission will rapidly select its list of three to recommend to Henry and the list will be sent to him that same day. All of this occurs even as controversy swirls around the Commission and the validity of its membership. A lawsuit has been filed and hearings are ahead.

Among the judges and others on the list of 14 applicants, and best known of the list, is Lt. Governor Jari Askins, who applied after losing the governor's race to Fallin.

But it is not Askins, it is rumored, that Henry is poised to nominate.

The rumors say there's one candidate Henry is most likely to nominate; their belief is rooted in more than just politics. While they believe they see the presence of a quid-pro-quo to an influential political family for their help in his campaigns, they also note that the family and Henry's family have long-standing personal ties.

That influential political family is the Bell Family of Seminole, Norman and Oklahoma City, and Henry's already demonstrated his willingness to pick family members for prestigious state posts. Likewise, the Bell family has demonstrated its loyalty to the Henry family.

Richard "Dick" Bell
President, Sarkey's Foundation,
Norman attorney
The Bell family's legal prominence began with the legendary Seminole attorney Dick Bell and now rests with his son, Richard "Dick" Bell, and other family members, among them Robert Dick Bell of Oklahoma City, a judge on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals, appointed by Henry. He is Dick Bell's nephew.

The Henry and Bell families have a long history. They've taken Amazon River fishing trips together (as documented by The McCarville Report Online and others). Judge Bell was on one such trip, in 2007, as was Judicial Nominating Commission member Jimmy Loftis.

When Henry began his underdog campaign for governor in 2002, it was no secret where his real campaign "headquarters" was located. It was Dick Bell's Norman law office.

Former OU football coach Barry Switzer, whose endorsement of Henry is credited with helping him win in an upset over Republican nominee Steve Largent of Tulsa in 2002, was a frequent visitor to Bell's office as campaign decisions and expenditures were made.

Judge Robert D. Bell
When a seat on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals came open, Henry selected Robert Dick Bell for the post. Bell was the youngest of 26 applicants. At the time, he'd been practicing law in Norman with his uncle for more than a decade. Bell is now 43.

Henry appointed him in 2005. That same year, Henry appointed Bell's son, Dr. John M. Bell of Norman, to the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents.

Kim Henry
Executive Director
Sarkey's Foundation
Those selections, Henry's critics claim, were obvious quid-pro-quos. And then, they believe, the back-scratch favor was returned when Kim Henry was hired by the Sarkey’s Foundation in Norman as its top officer.

Richard Bell is chairman of the Sarkey’s Foundation.

Today, many are convinced, Henry is awaiting the Commission's list of three candidates for the Supreme Court and he's confident Robert Bell will be among them. And that, his critics say, means Bell will be Henry's nominee.

Share |