Marian P. Opala
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Marian Peter Opala (January 20, 1921 – October 11, 2010) was a Polish-American lawyer and jurist who served as a Justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court for thirty-two years. Opala was appointed to the State's highest court in 1978 by Governor of Oklahoma David L. Boren. Prior to his appointment as a Justice, Opala served the State of Oklahoma in various positions, including Assistant County Attorney for Oklahoma County, Administrative Director of the Oklahoma Court System and judge on the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court.
Early life and World War II service
Opala was born in Łódź, Poland, the son of a prominent banker. After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, Opala, then a university student, enlisted in the Polish Army, and following Poland's defeat by Nazi Germany, joined the Polish Underground. In 1941 he escaped Poland via Turkey on the orders of his superiors in order to meet with Polish troops enlisted in the British Army in Palestine and Ethiopia to assure them that the struggle against the Nazi occupation was being waged vigorously at home with strong Allied support. After completing his mission, he served briefly with Polish troops in Italy and then parachuted back into Poland to resume his duties with the Underground.
Capture and subsequent liberation
In 1944 Opala was captured by German forces in the Warsaw Uprising and held in Flossenbürg concentration camp in Bavaria. After his liberation by the U.S. Army in 1945, he was befriended by Gene Warr, a captain in the 45th Infantry Division from Oklahoma City. Opala confided in Warr that he could not return to Poland after the Communist takeover and would probably settle somewhere in the British Commonwealth.
U.S. emigration and education
Captain Warr helped him get a job as a translator for U.S. forces in Occupied Germany, and offered to help him emigrate to the United States. With Warr's assistance, Opala settled in Oklahoma City in 1947; he became a United States citizen six years later. He graduated from Oklahoma City University School of Law and later obtained a master's degree from New York University Law School.
Early legal career
Opala served as Administrative Director of the Oklahoma State court system from 1968 to 1977. He became a judge on what is now Oklahoma's Worker's Compensation Court in 1977 before being appointed to the state Supreme Court the following year.
Oklahoma Supreme Court service
He was appointed to the Court's District 3 seat by Governor David L. Boren in 1978, and retained by the voters in 1980, 1982, 1988, 1994, 2000 and 2006. He served as the Court's Chief Justice from 1991 to 1992. In 2000, Opala was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. Throughout his career he has been known as a strong advocate of First Amendment rights, a commitment he attributes to his experiences as a youth in Nazi-occupied Poland. A group called Freedom of Information Oklahoma presents the Marian Opala First Amendment Award every year to an Oklahoman who has "promoted education about or protection of the individual rights guaranteed under the First Amendment".
In January 2005, Opala, then 83 years old and next in line once again to become Chief Justice, filed a federal lawsuit against his colleagues, alleging that they changed Oklahoma Supreme Court rules for succession to chief justice thereby arbitrarily allowing Chief Justice Joseph M. Watt to serve unprecedented consecutive terms. In July 2006, a federal appeals court dismissed Opala's lawsuit "with prejudice". In addition to his judicial career, Opala was an adjunct professor of law at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Tulsa, specializing in British and American legal history and constitutional law.
- "Opala celebrates 40 years in state" Edmond Sun, April 3, 2006. 10-13-09
- Oklahoma Supreme Court Biography 10-13-09
- Oklahoma Supreme Court Biography 10-13-09
- For more on the life and contributions of Justice Opala, see published biography of Marian Opala: Bob Burke & Ryan Leonard, "Opala: In Faithful Service to the Law," Oklahoma Heritage Association, 2012
- Barbara Hoberock, "Marian Opala, Oklahoma Supreme Court justice, dies at 89", Tulsa World, October 12, 2010
- Bernard, Richard M. (1980) The Poles in Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK.
- Everett, Dianna. "Opala, Marian Peter (1921- )." Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. 10-13-09
- "Judge, 83, alleges age discrimination" (www.courttv.com)
- Smith, Janice-Francis. Okla. Supreme Court Justice Marian Opala talks about his suit against .." The Journal Record, January 24, 2005. 10-13-09