For lawyers, the pursuit is for the great prize, a judgeship. Judges receive excellent money, have short working hours, no term limits, and splendid retirements. “You only need to know three things to be a judge, overruled, sustained and proceed,” said the late Tulsa County District Judge W. Lee Johnson.
Do judges get through their briefs? “Oh, no,” said a clerk for a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, “but they sure get through their newspapers.”
That may be why Oklahoma judges have a practice of noncompliance with, if not outright ignoring of U.S. Supreme Court precedent. That precedent, a legal decision serving as a rule in future similar cases, prohibits a relative of a murder victim from giving an opinion as to whether the death penalty or the “hell hole” of life in prison shall be imposed.
In the LeFlore County murder trial of James Lewis DeRosa, a family member of his victims told jurors, “my family pleads with you to give the death penalty.” Jurors did just that. DeRosa’s lawyers appealed claiming he was denied a fair trial by such a “hyper-emotional plea for revenge.”
A three-judge federal appeals court panel excused the plea as a “harmless error” but Judge Carlos F. Lucero dissented. “I would halt the Oklahoma prosecutors systematic abuse of the federal Constitution,” Lucero wrote.
Capital defendants in Oklahoma are not provided due process rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment as a matter of state law and policy. Much of the unconstitutional testimony in these cases is shockingly prejudicial. State law permits victim impact evidence. Perhaps, judges should consider the advice of Enid lawyer Stephen Jones. “The justice in a society is not measured by how it treats its best citizens but how it treats its worst.