Dual Role Presents Exciting Challenge

Chief Justice James R. Winchester finds the dual role of justice and administrator of the Oklahoma Supreme Court indeed is active.
For example, one day in a span of just more than two hours, he talks to a group of judges, then returns to his office in the state capital building to meet with and have pictures taken with Oklahoma Bar Association essay winners.
This role is just part of helping build the public perception of the judiciary, the third branch of government that is so little understood.
There is a difference between the appellate and trial court. Trial courts make the decision and this court makes certain they have it right in civil cases.
The supreme court also is a supportive court, Winchester said. ‘‘During my visit with the Oklahoma City district judges I wanted to find out how we could be supportive of them as they do their jobs.’’
This is a ‘‘court of last resort’’ in civil cases, he said. Any decisions made here are final unless questions of federal law are involved. That is why all nine justices take their jobs seriously and make every effort to do the best job possible.
Despite those efforts, someone always loses when an unfavorable ruling is made for their cause.
Sometimes these grumblings lead to complaints and efforts to change the court.
Outside threats to the court always have existed, Winchester said. These groups want courts to subscribe to their philosophical ideas, whether the ideas are to the right or left, even in the middle. People always are trying to find the right kind of balance and be exposed to it.
‘‘Despite these efforts, people can learn about the law and courts if they take the time,’’ he said. Some of these learning experiences can be gained through Law Day events, generally in April and May, as well as jury service.
Winchester said he hoped people have a good view of the court because this is not a high profile part of government.
There are no political campaigns for office and appellate judges aren’t out raising money.
Winchester said he is pleased with the court system or he wouldn’t have spent a great part of his life in this form of work.
He has served 22 years in a judiciary capacity, starting at the district level, now at the Supreme Court.
‘‘It is satisfying work,’’ Winchester said, ‘‘to take a case, follow the rules, the same law that everyone else follows, and accordingly apply it to a legal situation.’’
Younger lawyers, regardless of age, coming from law schools are working eagerly to be part of the profession.
‘‘I don’t work directly with law students at this time,’’ he said. ‘‘But when I did eight years ago, I found young lawyers were enthusiastic in their efforts. They had some problems because of lack of mentorship and experience, but were more zealous in their approach than I might have been at their age.’’
Young lawyers, especially those in the district attorney’s office, should get away from that job and interact with other attorneys, Winchester added. The Young Lawyer Division of the Oklahoma Bar Association does an excellent job mentoring these people. That is positive for the legal profession.
‘‘I like going to work each Monday and reviewing cases, being involved with lawyers when possible,’’ he added. ‘‘I like lawyers of any age and at any stage.’’

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