- Associated Press - Sunday, January 29, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Two district judges who focus on the daily administration of justice and Oklahoma’s solicitor general, who has been the chief litigator on a variety of state constitutional issues, are vying to be Gov. Mary Fallin’s first appointment to the state Supreme Court.

The state’s Republican governor will interview the candidates on Feb. 7 before deciding which will fill the seat on the nine-member court vacated last year by retired Justice Steven W. Taylor, of McAlester. The candidates are Bryan County District Judge Mark Campbell, LeFlore County District Judge Jonathan Sullivan and Solicitor General Patrick Wyrick, a native of Atoka.

The seat represents a judicial district comprised of 13 counties in southeastern Oklahoma. Fallin is scheduled to interview all three men at the state Capitol on Feb. 7.

Taylor, who was one of six justices appointed by Fallin’s predecessor, Democratic former Gov. Brad Henry, said his replacement will likely go through a transition period as he leaves the drama of courtroom justice and enters the much more cloistered and monastic experience of serving on the state’s highest court and considering complex constitutional issues.

“Literally, you spend your day reading and writing and thinking,” said Taylor, 67, a former district court judge in Pittsburg County who served as a trial judge for more than 20 years and presided over more than 500 jury trials, including the murder trial of convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols in 2004.

“I went from being the talker out on the bench to the writer in the privacy of my chambers,” Taylor said. “It is a job that requires a lot of self-discipline.”

Supreme Court justices must be at least 30 years old, a licensed practicing attorney or judge for at least five years prior to their appointment, and a “qualified elector” in the district, meaning they are entitled to become a registered voter there.

At 35, Wyrick is the youngest of the candidates and the only one who has not previously served as a judge. But as solicitor general for Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office, he has represented the state in several high-profile cases involving constitutional issues, including a lawsuit by state death row inmates who challenged the state’s lethal injection protocol. Wyrick participated in oral arguments on the case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015.

Wyrick has lived in the Oklahoma City area while serving as the state’s chief appellate lawyer since 2011. Between 2008 and 2011, Wyrick was an associate with the GableGotwals law firm in Oklahoma City. Prior to that, Wyrick served as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge James H. Payne in Muskogee.

Wyrick declined to speak publicly about his Supreme Court nomination, but he claims he maintains strong ties with his native Atoka and owns property there, remains involved in the family business in Atoka County and returns to the area frequently.

Sullivan, 54, of Poteau, said serving on the Supreme Court would be an opportunity for him to serve the entire state “and make sure that justice is being done.”

“I love what I do. I love being a trial judge. But I felt the calling,” said Sullivan, who has served on the bench for the past 10 years and was in private practice for 20 years before that.

Campbell, 52, of Durant, has served on the bench since 2005 and is currently the presiding judge for the Southeastern Judicial Administrative District of Oklahoma. He previously served as district attorney and as an assistant DA.

Campbell said it was an honor to be nominated for the Supreme Court position and to be associated with the other nominees.

“I know the other candidates and know them to be exceptionally bright,” Campbell said.

Oklahoma Supreme Court justices appear on the ballot for retention on a six-year rotating schedule.

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