Gov. Kevin Stitt today appointed Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Dana Kuehn to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, an announcement that punctuates a slate of recent comings and goings in state government.
“As a lifelong Oklahoman, I feel such privilege for the opportunity to serve the state at this capacity. I share the governor’s passion in making Oklahoma the best it can be and am eager to do so through the Supreme Court,” Kuehn said in Stitt’s press release. “I am grateful to Gov. Stitt for his faith and trust as I begin this new role.”
Stitt said he is “honored” to appoint Kuehn, who holds a political science degree from Oklahoma State University and who earned her juris doctorate from the University of Tulsa College of Law in 1996.
“Kuehn is a diligent public servant, and is well versed in many complex areas of the law,” Stitt said. “I have every confidence in her ability to uphold and defend justice for Oklahomans.”
Kuehn had been the Court of Criminal Appeals’ presiding judge this year. She helped legislators address some administrative concerns regarding payroll and other issues within the court, according to Rep. Chris Kannady (R-OKC).
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“I believe that given her record with the judiciary, coupled with her skill sets to manage a component of the judicial branch, made her the most qualified candidate out of the three sent to the governor by the Judicial Nominating Commission,” Kannady told NonDoc.
Stitt selected Kuehn — pronounced Keen — over Court of Civil Appeals Judge Stacie Hixon and Tulsa County District Judge Rebecca Nightingale. Stitt had previously appointed Hixon to the appellate court. The Judicial Nominating Commission reviews applicants for judicial appointments and presents the governor with a slate of three choices.
Prior to her appellate court appointment, Kuehn served as an associate district judge of Tulsa County from 2006 to 2017. According to Stitt’s release, Kuehn previously worked as an assistant district attorney in Tulsa County and as an associate attorney in the law firm Steidley and Neal.
Some of Kuehn’s published appellate court decisions can be found here.
Other recent developments in state government
Throughout the course of 2021, Stitt has made several judicial appointments and has overseen changes at various state agencies and boards.
In some cases, Stitt’s decisions have been made to fill vacancies created by resignations. In others, he has transitioned people from one public job to another. The following summary looks at a few comings and goings in state government over the last five months. For a full list of Stitt appointments, click here.
Jay Doyle changes jobs
Doyle departs the Tax Commission after less than two years at the helm. He replaced longtime director Tony Mastin in September 2019.
Doyle’s replacement at the Tax Commission will be selected by the three commissioners, two of whom Stitt has appointed.
Steven Harpe succeeds John Budd
Earlier this month, Stitt appointed Steven Harpe as the state’s new chief operating officer. Harpe will also maintain his role as executive director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. Harpe takes over for John Budd who left the COO post in June.
Richard Smothermon joins Pardon and Parole board
Although not a Stitt appointee, Richard Smothermon joined the five-member Pardon and Parole Board earlier this month to replace former Judge C. Allen McCall, who resigned to pursue other opportunities. Those opportunities include possibly coaching, according to the Tulsa World.
Smothermon had been working for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation as legislative liaison and general counsel. For 16 years, he served as district attorney in Pottawatomie and Lincoln counties. The Pardon and Parole Board and Stitt were sued by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater in March. That lawsuit is still pending, and a related OSBI investigation may be ongoing.
Smothermon was appointed by the chief justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Billy Taylor, Rick Walker join OSU Board of Regents
In late April, Stitt appointed Billy Taylor and Rick Walker to the Oklahoma State Board of Regents for the Agricultural and Mechanical Colleges, which oversees Oklahoma State University campuses, Langston University, Oklahoma Panhandle State University, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College and Connors State College.
A native of Muskogee County who earned an associates degree from Connors State, Taylor’s background is in banking and finance.
A native of southwest Oklahoma, Walker is also a banker.
Greg Blackwell joins Court of Civil Appeals
Earlier this month, Stitt appointed Greg Blackwell to the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals. Blackwell has practiced law for 17 years. He attended the University of Oklahoma, earning his undergraduate and law degrees there.
From Stitt’s press release announcing Blackwell:
Upon graduating, Blackwell served as a federal judicial clerk to the Honorable Michael Mihm on the Central District of Illinois. In 2005, he then began working for the United States Department of Justice in the Environment and Natural Resources Division, where he defended the U.S. and numerous federal agencies in complex environmental litigation.
Blackwell moved back to Oklahoma City in 2008 and worked in the land department of Chesapeake Energy Corporation and then served as head of all appellate litigation at Ball Morse Lowe, PLLC.
Prior to his appointment, Blackwell has been a staff attorney for Judge Bay Mitchell on the Court of Civil Appeals in Oklahoma City.
Blackwell’s appointment fills the vacancy for District 3, Office 1, created by the retirement of P. Thomas Thornbrugh, effective April 1, 2021. He was one of three applicants provided by the Judicial Nominating Commission for the governor’s selection.
Stitt appointments for district judge positions
Since April, Stitt has appointed three district judges:
- Burl O. “Bo” Estes to serve as associate district judge for Osage County;
- Kristina “Nikki” Kirkpatrick as a judge in Oklahoma County District Court;
- Anthony L. Bonner Jr. as a judge in Oklahoma County District Court.
On July 21, the Judicial Nominating Commission sent Stitt the names of three nominees for Oklahoma County’s vacant Seventh Judicial District, Office 2 post. The governor’s choices are: Kaitlyn G. Allen (Edmond), John E. Barbush (Edmond) and Emily N. Harrelson (Oklahoma City).
Tricia Everest jumps from jail trust to cabinet
Tricia Everest previously served as the chairperson of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, otherwise known as the jail trust. But Stitt named Everest as his new secretary of public safety in March after Chip Keating left the governor’s cabinet.
Everest, whose appointment was confirmed by the Oklahoma State Senate, oversees 55 state agencies, boards and commissions that employ more than 9,000 people.
“Tricia is a proven leader who has done a tremendous job over the last few years building successful relationships with law enforcement and delivering meaningful criminal justice reform for Oklahoma,” Stitt said in a press release at the time. “I am confident Tricia’s wealth of experience and heartfelt passion for serving the state will translate into success in this role.”
Courtney Warmington named state regent
In April, Stitt appointed Courtney Warmington to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, which is in the process of selecting a new chancellor.
A labor attorney, Warmington had been hired in recent years by the Oklahoma House of Representatives to examine reports of alleged sexual misconduct.
From Stitt’s press release:
Warmington earned her bachelor’s degree at Oklahoma State University before attending Oklahoma City University School of Law. After graduating magna cum laude, she started working in the labor and employment practice group at the law firm of Crowe & Dunlevy.
In 2016, Warmington joined what is now the Fuller Tubb Bickford Warmington & Panach law firm. She has extensive experience assisting employers in state and federal litigation and administrative proceedings involving wrongful termination, workplace discrimination and harassment and retaliation. Warmington also routinely handles wage and hour matters, on both the state and federal levels, using the experience she gained during a four-year term as an administrative law judge for the Oklahoma Department of Labor.