James R. Winchester

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James Winchester (born 1953) is an American lawyer and judge who is currently serving as an Associate Justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, District 5. He served a two-year term as Chief Justice of this court. He was reelected to his position in November 2016.

Early life[edit]

Born in Clinton, Oklahoma in 1953, Winchester received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Oklahoma and his Juris Doctor from Oklahoma City University.[a] After graduating from law school, Winchester practiced law in Weatherford, Oklahoma, and Hinton, Oklahoma, before being named Associate District Judge for Caddo County, Oklahoma in January 1983. In December 1983, at age 30, Winchester became one of the youngest district judges in the state when he was appointed as District Judge for the Sixth Judicial District of Oklahoma. During his tenure as a district judge, he tried more than 200 jury trials, ranging from fraud to first-degree murder death-penalty cases.[2]

Winchester was named Outstanding State Trial Court Judge by the Oklahoma Trial Lawyers Association in 1986 and served as an executive board member of the Oklahoma Judicial Conference from 1992 to 1996. He also served as President of the Oklahoma Judicial Conference in 1995. From August 1997 to January 2000, Winchester served as a United States Administrative Law Judge with the U.S. Social Security Administration.[1] While in these positions, he established the second in-state program for Children Coping With Divorce to assist children during difficult times.[2]

Supreme Court[edit]

Governor of Oklahoma Frank Keating appointed Winchester to the Oklahoma Supreme Court on January 4, 2000, replacing the late Justice, Alma Wilson, who had died during the previous year. He was named to District 5, which includes Carter, Cleveland, Garvin, Grady, Jefferson, Love, McClain and Stephens counties.[1] In 2007, the eight other Justices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court elected him to serve a two-year term as Chief Justice of Oklahoma.

Justice Winchester was last re-elected to the same position in November 26 by a large margin. According to the Norman Transcript, the tally was:[3] Yes 798,227 61.3% No 503,437 38.7%

Controversial judgments[edit]

Justice Winchester has angered some in the Oklahoma political establishment by his judgements on certain issues:

Restricting Internet Access to Supreme Court records[edit]

During Winchester's term as Chief Justice, the court issued a new rule that restricted public internet access to Supreme Court documents. The only exception was to allow access to dockets, and parties to the case were required to redact personal information before the document could be released. The justification was to balance the right of privacy of individuals against the right of public access. Chief Justice Winchester and four Associate Justices signed the order on March 11, 2008.The new rule was to take effect June 10, 2008.[4]

Justice Yvonne Kauger wrote a separate opinion that partly concurred and partly dissented from the majority. She said that she disagreed with "... the instantaneous restriction of public access to current public court documents on line."[4] In addition, she wrote:

The court made this decision with input only from the court clerks. Others directly affected by the decision - the bar, the bench, the Legislature, the public - were not consulted. . . . [A]s a result of this order, not only is the court taking a giant, 30-year leap backwards to a time when the personal computer was nonexistent, the public is now paying for access to a system which is made inaccessible by the order.[4]

A post on the same blog from a reader named only as Don, said, "...Oklahoma Supreme Court has withdrawn its order restricting public access to court records." The post further explained that lawyers, free-speech advocates, law enforcement, court clerks, journalists and companies that perform background checks had all complained that the rules were too far-reaching. The office of the Chief Justice publicly announced that it was withdrawing the order to allow time for further study and consideration of the issue.[4]

John M. Wylie of the Oologah Lake Leader was named as the March 2008 editorial winner by the Oklahoma Press Association (OPA) for a highly critical piece he wrote, even citing two provisions of the Oklahoma Constitution that Winchester and his colleagues allegedly violated in attempting to impose the order. He stated that these Justices should be impeached if they did not reverse course and vacate the order. OPA posted the rebuke online for wider distribution.[5]

Removal of the Ten Commandments Memorial[edit]

In one case, he sided with a majority of the court in a 2013 case, where the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had sued to force the removal of a monument to the Ten Commandments from the Oklahoma Capitol building. The court majority ruled that the monument must be removed promptly because it violated Article 2, Section 5, of the Oklahoma Constitution, which states that (state) property cannot be used to promote a "church denomination or system of religion." Seven Justices supported the plaintiff (ACLU) while two supported the state's position that there was no violation.[b] Governor Mary Fallin claimed the Court's ruling was erroneous and announced that she would not allow the removal while the state appealed the decision.[6] Despite Governor Fallin's statement, the Ten Commandments was removed from the capitol building in early October 2016.[7]

This case directly led to State Question 790, "Religion and the State" on the November, 2016 ballot. The proposition was to repeal Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution.[8]

The question was soundly defeated in the election.[c]

Personal life[edit]

Winchester currently resides in Chickasha, Oklahoma, with his wife, former State Representative Susan Winchester and their son, Davis.[2]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Winchester received his B. S. from OU in 1974 and his J. D. from OCU in 1977.[1]
  2. ^ Supporting were Justices Yvonne Kauger; Joseph M. Watt; James R. Winchester; James E. Edmondson; Steve W. Taylor; Noma D. Gurich and Chief Justice John F. Reif. Vice Chief Justice Douglas L. Combs and Justice Tom Colbert dissented.[6]
  3. ^ No = 809,254 (57.12%); Yes=607,482 (42.88%).[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Price, Marie. "Keating Names James Winchester to Supreme Court." The Journal Record. January 5, 2000. Accessed December 10, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c "Justice James R. Winchester, District No. 5." Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma. Accessed December 10, 2016
  3. ^ "Oklahoma Votes." Norman Transcript. Accessed December 11, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d Ardia, David. "Oklahoma Curtails Online Access to Court Records." Digital Media Law Project. March 14, 2008. Accessed December 10, 2016.
  5. ^ Wylie, John M. II. "Secret courts are wrong." Oologah Lake Leader. Posted on the Internet by Oklahoma Press Association on March 15, 2008. Accessed December 11, 2016.
  6. ^ a b Clark, Heather. "Oklahoma Governor Refuses to Remove Ten Commandments Monument Following Ruling." 108 Praise Radio. July 9, 2015. Accessed December 10, 2016.
  7. ^ a b "Oklahoma Public Money for Religious Purposes, State Question 790 (2016)." Ballotpedia. Accessed December 11, 2016.
  8. ^ 2016 Oklahoma Voter Guide, p. 14. Accessed December 10, 2016.