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Bill of Rights – Is the Right to a Jury Forgotten by the Elected Establishment?

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Today is the 219th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, a critical turning point in the history of this country and one that transformed this nation forever. As Republicans in Oklahoma have unprecedented control of the state legislature and executive branch, I would like to remind them to pause and reflect upon the importance of the rights enumerated upon us by our nation’s founding fathers as well as those rights enumerated in our state’s constitution.

As I’ve written recently, the Oklahoma Republican establishment has sought in recent years to claim that they are “constitutionalists,” yet have attempted to weaken the constitutionally protected right of Oklahoma citizens to address grievances in court. Now with complete control, we hear grumblings once again about “lawsuit reform” coming from the state capitol and reports of the GOP leadership pretty much meeting and/or speaking daily with special interest entities that have long sought tort immunity.

We are hearing comments that the Oklahoma GOP wants to create jobs and that lawsuit reform does that. That is false. First, constitutionalists should not believe government should be in the business of “creating jobs.” Notwithstanding that comment, government should strike a balance with its laws that preserve its citizens’ rights while fostering an economic climate that enables all businesses to succeed. However, this basic premise seems lost on the Oklahoma Republican establishment which is showing numerous signs that it intends to bow at the corporate knee of Oklahoma’s biggest corporations ergo the select companies who gave millions to their campaign and give them pretty much anything they want. In doing so, they throw away their cloak of constitutionalism in favor of the all mighty dollar.

Due to the all might dollar, we are continually hearing rumblings from the Oklahoma GOP establishment that Oklahoma needs further lawsuit reform. This is simply not true. In 2009 Oklahoma Republicans pushed through a tort bill that they claimed was among the best in the nation and provided a “level playing field.” As I wrote in my previous blog, Senate Pro Tempore Glen Coffee stated on August 2, 2010 that Oklahoma now “has the best tort rules on the books…” Dan Sullivan (“insurance lawyer”) who has long advocated for insurance immunity by presenting much more omnibus bills, stated that “this bill will ensure all Oklahomans with legitimate claims have a level playing field when they walk into a courtroom. This is real reform that will have real results."

The above quotes raise questions every Oklahoma should have. What has changed since August 2, 2010 (four months) to make Oklahoma not have the “best tort rules on the books” and has the “playing field” somehow been tilted in favor of Oklahoma citizens who seek redress in court? Instead of anecdotal quotes about business, our elected leaders who are in favor of usurping our constitutional rights should have to provide specifics. Why? Because in enacting further “tort reform” aka tort immunity they are usurping the very constitutional right of trial by jury enacted by our forefathers. Further, they are blatantly violating our Oklahoma’s Constitution Section II which states “Courts of justice open – Remedies for wrongs – Sale, denial or delay” and states

The courts of justice of the State shall be OPEN TO EVERY PERSON, and speedy and certain remedy afforded for every wrong and for EVERY injury to person, property, or reputation; and right and justice shall be administered without SALE, denial, delay, or PREJUDICE

It seems to me that without providing true and intellectual answers to these questions and in enacting so called tort reforms, the Oklahoma Republican establishment will blatantly violate this state’s constitution by not allowing EVERY PERSON to seek redress. Further, by enacting these so called reforms it is clear that justice was for SALE to the highest special interest donor and in doing so will cause great PREJUDICE to the citizens of Oklahoma.

Some of our greatest elected leaders have seen the Bill of Rights as a weapon against totalitarianism. Most Oklahomans believe that at all costs the rights afforded in our Constitutions must be upheld. In fact, elected officials take an oath to uphold the constitution. In what can only be described as hypocritical, you hear these same elected officials talk about the right to bear arms, the right freely worship and freedom of speech. Why then is it so unbecoming for them to discuss the right to a jury and the right to have open courts to seek redress for when you are wrong?

The time has passed for the Oklahoma Republican establishment to be playing political games and seeking approval from donors aka special interests. It’s time to adhere to the constitution and do what is good for the average Oklahoma citizen. It’s time for one’s integrity to not be for sale.