Governor's Supreme Court pick could face legal challenge
OKLAHOMA CITY (KOKH) —
The governor has made her pick for the Oklahoma Supreme Court. However, the governor may be facing multiple lawsuits over questions about the eligibility of Patrick Wyrick to hold the position.
The Oklahoma Democratic Party told FOX 25 a lawsuit is one of the possible actions they could be taking in response to the governor’s appointment.
The reason for the lawsuits are around Wyrick’s eligibility.
Wyrick, at 35-years-old, has been the solicitor general for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office. He has never been a judge, but that is not a requirement for the position of Supreme Court justice.
There are special requirements for a person looking to fill a spot on the Oklahoma Supreme Court. According to the Judicial Nominating Commission in addition to being an attorney or a judge, applicants must be 30 or older and have been a qualified elector in the 2nd Supreme Court Judicial District for at least one year immediately prior to the date of appointment.
The 2nd Supreme Court Judicial District is made up of 13 counties in southeastern Oklahoma.
“The reason why we have different judicial districts is so different areas of the state can have basically a voice on the courts,” said attorney Ed Blau, “Otherwise you would have a court generally dominated by people from Oklahoma City or Tulsa.”
According to voter records from the Oklahoma State Election Board, Wyrick registered to vote in Atoka County on October 12 of 2016. Atoka County is in the 2nd Supreme Court Judicial District. Wyrick’s registration happened just two months after the vacancy to the court was announced.
Voter records do not indicate Wyrick has voted in any recent election in Atoka County. In fact, the state election board said records show Wyrick last voted in the March 2016 Presidential Primary in Cleveland County.
According to the Oklahoma State Election Board, the law requires someone to register to vote where they live.
Cleveland County property records show Wyrick and his wife own a home in Oklahoma City. They previously owned another home in Moore. His application for the judicial opening indicates almost all of his adult life has been spent living outside the 2nd Judicial District. However, that same application says he has been a resident of that district since birth.
So what is a resident?
A 1984 Attorney General opinion on judicial qualifications says anyone who is eligible to vote, not just registered, can be a “qualified elector.” The opinion said for the purposes of Supreme Court Justices the candidate has to prove they are a “bona fide resident” of the district for at least a year.
“To determine whether or not you are a qualified elector it goes far beyond where you're registered to vote, it basically goes to where your domicile is,” Blau told FOX 25. “It generally means where your residence is, where you work, where you spend your time, what your home is; if you've got a situation where somebody lives in a certain place, they work in a certain area, they or their spouse vote in a certain area, they own their house, it's not on the market, those sorts of things the law says that is where the person is domiciled.”
Wyrick and his wife both work in the metro.
His wife last voted in Cleveland County, where she is registered, in the November 2016 general election.
The 1984 opinion goes on to cite Oklahoma Common Law on the requirements of determining residency and determining if someone has legally changed residency. The law says you cannot have more than one “domicile” and that in order to change your residence you have to abandon a previous residence.
The law also says residency indications of a changed residency include the “habits of the person, his business and domestic relations” and the exercise of political rights. Wyrick has not exercised his political rights to vote in any area but Cleveland County since 2000.
“If you live in one place and you have no intention of selling your house, your spouse lives there and votes there, those sorts of things, then for all intents and purposes that is your domicile,” Blau said, “And for purposes of judicial districts, and in this particular case, it would seem the nominee lives works, his wife lives, works she's registered to vote that would be the domicile and not simply where he's registered to vote.”
No one with the Judicial Nominating Commission was available to explain how the strict residency requirements for the Oklahoma Supreme Court allowed Wyrick to become a finalist.
This is not the first time Wyrick’s name has been in the news.
It was in 2015 Wyrick argued the state’s case in the U.S. Supreme Court over the use of Midazolam in executions. During that hearing his honesty was called into question by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
“I am substantially disturbed that in your brief you made factual statements that were not supported by the cited -- of those sources and in fact directly contradicted,” Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor told Wyrick during the Glossip V. Gross arguments. “I'm going to give you just three small examples among many I found. So nothing you say or read to me am I going to believe, frankly, until I see it with my own eyes the context, okay?”
After that 2015 hearing in the Supreme Court hearing, FOX 25 revealed the brief Wyrick was defending included a lie.
Documents the state said were Oklahoma's actually came from another state. The attorney general's office would later admit to the Supreme Court it had misstated the facts.