Oklahoma Chamber wants the state’s “legal climate” to cater to corporate attorneys (Capitol Updates)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

Photo by Marc Falardeau / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Marc Falardeau / CC BY 2.0

Oklahoma State Chamber CEO Fred Morgan has written an opinion piece about the Chamber’s success in passing “reforms” in Oklahoma’s civil court system. The occasion is a new survey from the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform showing Oklahoma has jumped from 42nd to 33rd in its “legal climate.” According to Morgan this is no doubt due to “lawsuit reforms” championed by the Chamber at the State Capitol.

Who are these people who rated Oklahoma’s legal climate? According to the “Report Highlights”, the “participants in the survey were comprised of a national sample of 1,203 in-house general counsel, senior litigators or attorneys, and other senior executives who indicated they are: knowledgeable about litigation matters at companies with at least $100 million in annual revenues, and have recent (within the past four years) litigation experience in each state.” In other words the people grading Oklahoma’s courts were 1,203 corporate lawyers and litigators and their corporate bosses in $100 million companies. One has to wonder how much this group has in common with the average Oklahoman who must depend on Oklahoma’s “legal climate” for a fair shake in court. Certainly not much when it comes to financial resources.

By what criteria did these lawyers and their corporate bosses rate Oklahoma’s courts? Here’s their list: “overall treatment of tort and contract litigation, meaningful venue requirements, treatment of class action suits, damages, timeliness of summary judgment or dismissal, discovery, scientific and technical evidence, judge’s impartiality, judge’s competence, juries’ fairness.”

Translated into non-legalese, this means did the lawyers and corporate executives feel they got treated well or poorly in court; did they have a favorable county in which to have their case heard; are class actions made difficult for injured consumers; are damages limited by law; how easily can the company get out of the lawsuit and get the case dismissed; is it easy or difficult to keep harmful evidence away from the injured person and the jury; is scientific evidence either limited or required depending on what’s in the company’s best interest; is the judge “business friendly;” did the judge usually rule in the company’s favor; and did the company get hammered by the jury?

Morgan says we have improved our legal climate by several notches, but we got our “worst” scores on “judge’s impartiality” and “judge’s competence.” His answer, which the State Chamber will no doubt be championing next session, is to change the way we select our judges. One has to wonder how 1,203 in-house lawyers, corporate litigators and business executives from all over the nation were in a position to objectively evaluate our judges’ impartiality and competence from the standpoint of all the parties involved in Oklahoma lawsuits. Of course, they weren’t. These corporate surveyors’ job was to look out for their companies, which is not necessarily the same as our legislature’s job description. Oh, and Morgan’s other proposal is to set a mandatory judicial retirement age so we can get rid of some of the current judges as quickly as possible.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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