Judicial elections boring? Consider Cleveland County …

Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 22-Jul-2010

As a general rule, judicial elections in Oklahoma are pretty boring. Except when they’re not.

In Oklahoma County’s office No. 2 race, incumbent Judge Twyla Gray has thousands of yard signs that sprinkle front yards and other venues around the heart of Oklahoma City. Trying to unseat her are Paul Faulk, with a very visible effort, and Jim Worrell, whose evidence of campaigning is sparse.

Also in the capital county’s Office No. 7 race, six very serious attorneys are campaigning all out, with signage and other evidence of politicking that demonstrates seriousness of purpose. Many regard Kent Eldridge as the front-runner, based on literature, mailings and fundraising, but colorful campaign signs and literature distribution are visible from supporters of Tim Rhodes, Pat Crawley, Jackie Short, Cindy Truong and Carson Brooks.

In 2010, the toughest judicial slugfest in the broad Oklahoma City metro area may be the race for office 1 in Cleveland, Garvin and McClain counties.

State Sen. Jonathan Nichols, a former prosecutor who is facing the 12-year term limit in 2012, filed for the judgeship in June. Also in the race are local attorneys Tracy Schumacher and Michael C. Bell. A fourth candidate withdrew.

Schumacher now has a private practice, but early in her career worked as a prosecutor under former District Attorney Tully McCoy. Bell is a trial lawyer and part of the Richard Bell law firm (although they are not related).

Local observers give the edge to Nichols due to his experience in politics, but note that Schumacher is an appealing candidate whose practice includes family law. Bell could conceivably play a spoiler’s role, keeping either candidate from getting a majority on July 27. If no candidate receives an outright majority then, the top two will face off in November.

The campaign has grown more combative the last two weeks, as postcard mailers, other advertising, and some news stories, have drawn attention.

One news story noted Schumacher had not notified the administrative director of courts within 10 days of the start of her candidacy, as stated in a 1998 code section. Nichols’ allies assailed her for alleged violations of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act  — yet Schumacher clearly identified herself in the recorded telephone calls that went to voters earlier this month. 

Schumacher filed required notice in Mid-July, received a standard “closeout’ letter from state officials explaining telecom requirements. She has timely filed campaign finance reports with the state Ethics Commission.

Nichols, however, was one day late with his most recent finance report. Further, he may get grief for using money from a Republican political action committee in his judicial race. Although term-limited in the Senate, Nichols paid for political consulting services in the fall 2009, using money from his Senate campaign stash.

In June, Nichols asked retired Judge Robert L. Bailey of the judicial ethics advisory committee for an ethics ruling. The question was: “May the campaign committee of a candidate for a judicial office solicit and accept a contribution from a political action committee (PAC) that has a policy of only making contributions to the members of a single political party?”

Judge Bailey was efficient with the answer: “No.”

Schumacher has raised about $28,000 from local attorneys and from non-lawyers in the area, while Nichols has built up a $90,000 nest egg. 

Nichols hit Schumacher with an aggressive mailer this week, in which he stressed that she has defended accused criminals as part of her private law practice.

Schumacher’s supporters note that Nichols was one of the few Republicans to oppose tort reform measures in recent legislative sessions – and that when he received an award for support of higher education on Thursday, the presentation was made in the Richard Bell courtroom at the University of Oklahoma.