Bar Association questions the experience and judgment of the new Oklahoma AGlah

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John M. O’Connor, who was elected attorney general of Oklahoma by Governor Kevin Stitt on Friday, lacked the professional competence and integrity to be a federal judge, the American Bar Association found three years ago after a lengthy investigation into interviews Dozens of prosecutors and judges.

Complaints in the Oklahoma legal community about O’Connor, a 2018 Oklahoma federal judge nominee, have centered on his billing methods and fees, as well as his lack of courtroom experience, according to correspondence between the ABA Standing Judiciary Committee and the U.S. top Executives of the Senate Judiciary Committee

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“Regarding professional competence, which includes qualities such as intellectual ability, judgment, writing and analytical skills, legal knowledge and broad work experience, the committee found that Mr. O’Connor is not qualified,” wrote an August letter. 18, 2018, states.

“The consensus based on confidential peer review is that Mr. O’Connor lacks adequate litigation experience regarding the depth and breadth of his legal practice to date. His judgment was also poor.

“The committee also assessed Mr. O’Connor’s integrity, taking into account his character and general reputation in the legal world, and the diligence and diligence of the candidate. In this category, too, Mr. O’Connor did not qualify. The confidential peer review revealed several cases of ethical concerns, including openness to the court, evidence of over-billed customers and court-criticized billing practices, improper ex parte communication with a court, and improper contact with opposing parties in litigation.

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John O'Connor makes remarks after he was sworn in as the new Oklahoma Attorney General at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City on Friday.

O’Connor spoke to ABA evaluators “and his responses were inadequate to change their recommendations or the final standing committee vote,” the ABA wrote in a September 12, 2018 letter to the chairmen of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Oklahoman reported on O’Connor’s ABA rating as unqualified in 2018 and asked for comments from O’Connor on certain allegations. O’Connor did not go into the details, saying, “Although the ABA has received numerous positive statements about my competence, experience and ethical practices from attorneys I have worked with and judges I have appeared before the ABA decided to reiterate their false and misleading allegations. “

O’Connor was asked about the ABA rating on Friday when he was sworn in as attorney general and said he would be happy to answer the question, but he was rushed by a governor’s staff before replying.

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John O'Connor, second from right, awaits to be sworn in as the new Oklahoma Attorney General at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City Friday.

Stitt later quoted, “I have no concerns about the opinion of any outside liberal interest group, and I have the greatest confidence that John O’Connor’s high moral character, 40 years of legal experience and” A willingness for all Fighting 4 million Oklahomans makes him the right choice. “

Announcing O’Connor’s appointment on Friday, Stitt said he had set up a wide network to find someone “who was very competent in law.”

“But more importantly, I was looking for someone with a high moral character who would do the right things for the right reasons and never for personal gain.”

Stitt said that O’Connor is consistently listed as one of Tulsa’s top attorneys and has received a top rating from the Martindale Hubbell Legal Directory. The Martindale Hubbell website shows that O’Connor received four ratings, three in 2012 and one in 2014. Two gave him five stars out of five, one gave him four stars and the other gave him 2.8 stars.

Rare American Bar Association rating

The ABA’s Standing Judiciary Committee, which evaluates candidates for federal justice, unanimously voted to rate O’Connor as unqualified; 15 members belonged to the body at this point in time. It was only the fifth time that the ABA has given rating nominees a unanimous rating of unqualified in more than 60 years.

The ABA’s assessment and details of the background investigation against O’Connor were made public in 2018 when the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee examined then-President Donald Trump’s nomination of the Tulsa attorney for a position as a roving federal judge in Oklahoma.

O’Connor’s nomination, along with many others, was not voted until the end of the 115th Congress. In 2019, at the beginning of the 116th Congress, Trump reappointed many of those who had not received a vote the previous year. He hasn’t re-nominated O’Connor, who withdrew his name from exam in March 2019.

Stitt named O’Connor on Friday to replace Mike Hunter, who announced his resignation in May after The Oklahoman questioned him about an extramarital affair with a government official. The appointment lasts until January 2023, when the next elected attorney general will take office. O’Connor, a Republican, said Friday he would be running for the job. Attorney Gentner Drummond, who nearly defeated Hunter in the 2018 GOP area code, is also planning to seek the position.

Charges for excessive charges

O’Connor, 66, is from Tulsa and received his law degree from the University of Tulsa in 1980. He spent 35 years with Newton, O’Connor, Turner and Ketchum and became a shareholder in Hall Estill when the two companies merged in 2018.

In assessing O’Connor’s eligibility for federal judicial office, the American Bar Association’s Standing Judiciary Committee looked at factors likely to be of little relevance to his attorney general practice, including his lack of experience as a trial attorney.

Under the Oklahoma Constitution, the attorney general does not have to be a lawyer. Most of the work in the office is done by legal teams from the criminal and civil departments, although Hunter was an active participant in the 2019 trial of opioid manufacturers in Cleveland County.

The ABA committee’s letter dated September 12, 2018 to the Senate Judiciary Chairmen stated regarding O’Connor’s professional competence: “Mr. O’Connor’s last jury trial was in 1997. Mr. O’Connor has very limited experience in federal courts. Mr. O’Connor has virtually no criminal law experience. Mr. O’Connor’s work has focused primarily on divorce, adoptions and, more recently, receivership cases. “

According to the letter, “O’Connor admitted that he had little to no dealings with federal civil or criminal procedural laws, or federal evidence rules,” in his everyday life.

Oklahoma attorneys and judges interviewed by the ABA committee were concerned about some of O’Connor’s cases and practices.

According to the letter, two complaints have been filed with the Oklahoma Bar Association against O’Connor for charging excessive fees. O’Connor said one of the complaints was filed by another attorney to seek revenge against him; The ABA committee found that the attorney who filed the complaint against O’Connor has been suspended.

The ABA committee reported: “Two judges had cut Mr. O’Connor’s fee for overstepping, one on an adoption matter and the other on a bankruptcy matter. Mr. O’Connor acknowledged that the courts cut his fees as excessive. “

Some of the lawyers interviewed by the ABA expressed particular concern about O’Connor’s work for former Insurance Commissioner John Doak. O’Connor had raised money for Doak.

O’Connor has been hired by the commissioner to represent the office in some bankruptcy administration cases “although he has no experience in the practice of insurance law or as an attorney for insurers or bankruptcy applicants,” according to the September 21, 2018 letter from ABA.

“In these cases, too, attorneys have raised the issue of O’Connor and his law firm collecting fees for unjustified periods of time. Respondents noted a lack of experience and expertise to properly assess claims, a strategy to litigate any problem, present unsustainable positions and repeated refusal to negotiate in good faith. “

Regarding the allegations, Doak told The Oklahoman in 2018, “Mr. O’Connor is a well respected corporate attorney on complex commercial, transactional and litigation matters and has been very successful in recovering assets for the benefit of policyholders and beneficiaries in the estates he represents.

In a press release on Friday, Stitt’s office included a quote from Doak who said, “John O’Connor has protected the Oklahoma people in his capacity as an attorney on multiple cases who have worked with insurance beneficiaries with successful results. These cases were complex and required an incredible understanding of the law … Oklahoma is well served by O’Connor’s commitment to the rule of law and fairness in all matters. “

Author Carmen Forman contributed to this report


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