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April 23, 2014

Oklahoma Supreme Court could face impeachment

OKLAHOMA CITY — A member of the Oklahoma House drafted a resolution Wednesday seeking the impeachment of state Supreme Court justices who granted a delay of execution to two death row inmates.

Republican state Rep. Mike Christian told The Associated Press that the five justices engaged in a “willful neglect of duty” when they granted stays of execution Monday to Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, both of whom were scheduled to be executed this month.

Lockett and Warner, who aren’t challenging their convictions, have filed a civil lawsuit seeking the source of the drugs used to execute them. Pending the resolution of that lawsuit, they asked for a stay of execution.

The Court of Criminal Appeals has said it couldn’t weigh in on the delay of execution because it didn’t have the power or the authority, so the high court said a “rule of necessity” led to its decision Monday. Under the state constitution, the Supreme Court handles civil cases while the Court of Criminal Appeals takes those involving inmates.

“This is a case of our state’s judges inserting their personal biases and political opinions into the equation,” said Christian, a former Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper.

An impeachment effort would have no impact on the current proceedings, which has put the state’s two highest courts at odds. Attorney General Scott Pruitt claims Oklahoma is facing a “constitutional crisis,” but the high court’s action is a victory for the inmates and their lawyers, who have successfully used questions about drug secrecy to at least temporarily shut down Oklahoma’s death chamber.

While courts in Missouri and Texas have rejected claims that secretive death row procedures could expose inmates to painful executions, Lockett and Warner benefited by bypassing the Court of Criminal Appeals and taking their plea directly to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Gov. Mary Fallin halted Lockett’s execution to ensure he won’t be put to death before his day in court, but complains the state Supreme Court strayed from a mandate that it handle only civil matters when it issued its own order stopping executions over the drug question.

“There is no reasonable rationale of this being anywhere near the realm of a civil case,” said Rep. Aaron Stiles, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He complained that the state Supreme Court, which often strikes down legislative initiatives as unconstitutional, has crossed a line by granting a stay of execution.

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