Work as District Judge Good Training

Justice Stephen W. Taylor’s 21 years experience as a district judge in the 18th Judicial District brought an awareness about the needs of the court to his current post.
Named to the Supreme Court in 2004, Taylor recalled his years as a district judge where he conducted more than 500 trials involving attorneys, jurors and witnesses.
That docket, which includes McAlester and Eufaula, is the busiest in the state, ahead of Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Norman and Lawton, he said.
This is the court of civil appeals for every district court in Oklahoma, he said. It is viewed as the court of last resort.
‘‘I view my role here as more than an appeals court,’’ he said. This is not an error correcting court. The nine justices review each case presented on appeal. Most cases are then referred to the appellate courts.
Only cert — certiorari — cases are taken by the Supreme Court. These are cases involving issues with special factors that previously had not been resolved.
Part of a justice’s work is unseen. It is at an office desk researching cases that are reviewed during conferences with all nine justices.
These conferences, closed to the public, are vigorously debated on various points of law. The focus is on issues not previously ruled on.
‘‘Our first responsibility is to follow the rule of law,’’ he said. ‘‘We do not interpret, but apply the law, resolve legal issues.’’
Those rulings also set precedent for future cases that judges and trial lawyers follow. A clear ruling makes it easier for these people to do their jobs and perhaps result in settlements.
Lawyer discipline is part of the Supreme Court’s role.
‘‘Every allegation or misdeed by an attorney that has not been resolved by discipline committees ends up with us,’’ he said. Another role is reviewing whether or not a law passed by the legislature is constitutional. This is not making a determination if the law is good or bad.
People do not realize that this court also has responsibility for all district courts in the state, budgets and rules. It includes the administrative correctness of trial divisions with responsibilities over trial judges, bailiffs and all court personnel.
While this court is not invisible to the public, it does not have the high profile status of district courts, Taylor continued. ‘‘I am walled into the office all day to read cases and write opinions. After 21 years in the trial court people wonder if a person could make the transition to the appellate level.
‘‘I like coming to work and having a quiet role. I am working with a staff that helps research data for the written product. This is not a high profile business.
‘‘It was 23 years ago that Gov. George Nigh appointed me as a trial judge,’’ he said. ‘‘I tried to do justice on every case that came before me. That hasn’t changed. Now, I am trying every day to properly apply the law to each case in a fair and impartial way.’’
These decisions immediately affect the litigants involved in the action, then set precedents for future rulings.’’
Taylor said the rulings must be made following the law regardless of any personal feelings he might have on the issue.
The judicial branch of government makes decisions on issues presented before it regardless of the popularity factor.
That isn’t a new role.
Taylor said that after his many years on the bench as a trial judge he made some difficult decisions that indeed were unpopular with the public. A judge can only do what is required by the law.
The day the court reacts to popular opinion will be the time that it fails people and loses the responsibilities found in the U.S. Constitution.
Benjamin Franklin’s comment when asked by a woman about the newly written U.S. Constitution was, ‘‘you have a representative form of government — if you can keep it,’’ he said. If judges lose their independence and waiver, favoring popular opinion, then the system of government that a lot of people fought and died for is for naught.
Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, talking about the state of the judiciary, warned people to be on guard and not allow the executive and legislative branches to interfere with that independence.
Candidates are chosen on popularity for those two branches of government.
Taylor said he daily undergoes a gut check requiring discipline to strictly follow the law and make decisions accordingly.
That means not allowing politics and popular opinion to influence his actions in applying the law. These cases must be decided on facts.
‘‘The code of judicial conduct does not allow judges to be involved with citizens in political events or any other activity that cause his professionalism to be questioned,’’ Taylor said. Any judge straying from that code is in trouble.

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