OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Flexing its muscles, the Oklahoma Supreme Court in 2013 overturned tax cuts and rejected legislative efforts to change a portion of the state’s legal system. Other courts influenced the state, too, with decisions on the new federal health care law and the convictions of two former legislators.
In June, a civil justice reform measure hailed in 2009 as the most comprehensive bill to impact Oklahoma’s legal system was declared unconstitutional by the nine-member state Supreme Court. Gov. Mary Fallin recalled legislators to the Capitol to re-pass the bills in smaller portions.
Supporters said the guidelines would help block frivolous lawsuits and reduce malpractice and liability insurance costs for doctors and businesses. In a 7-2 decision, justices said the law violated a constitutional provision prohibiting bills from covering more than one topic.
House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, said the ruling was based in politics and said legislators needed to undo damage caused by “activist” judges. Shannon called for a study on term limits for judges, but Chief Justice Tom Colbert downplayed any perceived friction between the court and lawmakers.
“Our responsibility is to interpret the laws and we, in interpreting law, must make sure that it’s consistent with the state and federal constitutions,” Colbert said.
The Supreme Court handed the Legislature another setback in December when it nullified legislation to slash the state’s personal income tax rate and provide $120 million for repairs to the Capitol. Like its June decision, the high court said the measure was unconstitutional because the bill contained more than one subject.
The high court wasn’t always a spoiler. Justices during the year turned back challenges to a new workers’ compensation law and the expanded use of a state bond program. The latter ruling cleared the way for a bond issue that includes $38.5 million for a new medical examiner’s office at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.
The state’s highest court also played a role in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss an appeal filed by Attorney General Scott Pruitt involving anti-abortion legislation invalidated by the state’s courts. It certified to the nation’s highest court that Oklahoma’s law not only limited drug-induced abortions, but also effectively banned them altogether.
Federal courts blocked a portion of the new U.S. health care law that would require Hobby Lobby and religious institutions to offer access to certain types of contraceptives, including morning-after pills.
The federal government appealed the Hobby Lobby case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The craft-store chain and religious groups say emergency contraception is akin to abortion, in violation of their religious principles.
Two former Oklahoma lawmakers were convicted of felony bribery in Oklahoma County District Court during the year.
Former Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, was found guilty by a 12-member jury in October of offering a bribe for withdrawal of candidacy. He was sentenced a year in prison and pay a $5,000 fine but was allowed to remain free while during his appeals.
Prosecutors accused Terrill of arranging to put former Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, in an $80,000-a-year job at the Medical Examiner’s Office if she would not seek re-election in 2010 so a Republican colleague of Terrill’s could seek her open seat.
In December, Leftwich received a one-year suspended sentence. She also has filed an appeal.
In Tulsa County, two men charged with first-degree murder and hate crimes in the shooting deaths of three people in Tulsa last year pleaded guilty and were sentenced to life in prison without parole as part of a deal in which prosecutors agreed to spare the death penalty.
Alvin Watts and Jake England were charged in the 2012 shootings of William Allen, Bobby Clark and Dannaer Fields, who were killed as they walked near their Tulsa homes.
In Pottawatomie County, a former Oklahoma schoolteacher pleaded guilty to child pornography and exploitation charges and agreed to a 45-year prison sentence. Former third-grade teacher Kimberly Crain was accused of taking sexually explicit photos of young female students in her classroom and sharing them with a retired college professor in Pennsylvania.
And in Oklahoma County, a jury convicted a Del City police captain of first-degree manslaughter in the death of an unarmed teenager who was running away after a scuffle. The officer’s sentencing is set Jan. 8.