(Update: The Oklahoma County judicial elections took place June 28. The results of each race can be found here.)
Eleven of 16 races for Oklahoma County judge seats were already decided before Tuesday’s primary election because only the incumbents filed or still remain on the ballot. However, four district judge seats and one associate district judge position are still up for grabs, and they feature a combined 14 candidates.
Because the Office 14 race only contains two candidates, Kathryn Savage and James Siderias, that election will only be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
Judicial elections at this state’s district level maintain an interesting political dynamic. Unlike federal judges who are appointed by the president, judicial seats at Oklahoma’s district level are elected, meaning they can be influenced by money. Often, that money is donated by attorneys, because they most care who serves on the bench. But the conflict can be inherent and obvious, as attorneys who donate to and knock doors for judicial candidates can end up arguing cases in front of their favored candidate if they prevail.
Both district judges and associate district judges are elected to four-year terms. This article offers a look at each of the candidates in competitive Oklahoma County judicial elections. If no candidate wins a simple majority of votes in the June 28 primary election, then the top two vote earners will compete in the Nov. 8 general election.
The following information was gathered from publicly available resources, as well as a judicial forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma County. Campaign websites or Facebook accounts are linked on each candidate’s name, and candidates are presented in alphabetical order.
Office 3: Incumbent Palumbo battles Easter, Lopez
Merydith Easter has worked as an Oklahoma County assistant district attorney since she graduated from the University of Oklahoma College of Law 11 years ago. She has spent seven years prosecuting physical and sexual abuse crimes against children, and she is currently employed as the domestic violence team leader in the Oklahoma County DA’s Office, according to her campaign website. Easter’s father, Donald Easter, is a former special district court judge in Oklahoma County.
During the judicial forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma County, Easter claimed incumbent Amy Palumbo is handing down sentences to defendants based on “who you know, what you look like and how much money is in your bank account.” Easter also claimed that defense attorneys who have given maximum donations to Palumbo’s campaign have represented defendants in cases over which Palumbo presides.
Joan Lopez is an attorney at Lopez & Johnson, and she has more than 20 years of experience in criminal defense, as well as divorce, immigration and bankruptcy cases, according to an old Facebook account of hers. However, she does not appear to maintain an online presence, nor does she appear to have a campaign website.
Lopez did not attend the judicial forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma County.
Amy Palumbo (incumbent)
Incumbent Judge Amy Palumbo presides over a criminal docket in Office 3 and was first elected to the seat in the 2018 primary election, ousting then incumbent Howard Haralson. She formerly worked as a criminal prosecutor and led a division of the domestic violence task force in the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office, according to her Facebook.
On her website, Palumbo says she prays to God every day before taking the bench and that her “goal is to one day be remembered for having exceeded the high standards this position demands.” She married to attorney Marco Palumbo.
Palumbo did not attend the judicial forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma County.
Office 5: Phillips, Seabolt challenge Mai
Natalie Mai (incumbent)
Incumbent Judge Natalie Mai was first elected to the bench in 2018. During the LWVOKC forum, Mai said she currently has “two jobs,” presiding over both a felony and civil docket after former Judge Ray Elliott retired in February. She graduated with her juris doctorate from Oklahoma City University in 2009 and started a private practice that “helped with small businesses.” She also practiced criminal defense on the state and federal level.
During Tuesday’s forum, when asked if criminal justice reform is needed, Mai spoke about alternative sentencing options and stated that judges have resources available to help with “the reduction of people in the jail.”
Beau Phillips graduated from the Oklahoma City University School of Law in 2007. He currently serves in the U.S. Army Reserves, according to his campaign website. After graduating law school, he worked in the Oklahoma County public defender’s office for six years. He has experience in both criminal and civil litigation, and he calls cases that are heard in the Juvenile Justice Center the ones that are “close to his heart.”
“I have since 2016 gained a lot of experience in that courthouse,” Phillips said during Tuesday’s forum. “I would like to put my input in for the judiciary to try to make that system better as well.”
Jason Seabolt graduated with his juris doctorate from the Oklahoma City University of School of Law in 2016. In his six years practicing as an attorney, he has focused on civil law, primarily contract, real property, oil and gas and probate litigation, he said during Tuesday’s forum.
If elected to the Office 5 seat, Seabolt says he wants to streamline the scheduling processes and “make the decision-making process more transparent” for both lawyers and litigates, particularly on the civil side.
Office 13: Eddy, Garcia face Stitt appointee Kirkpatrick
Rand Eddy has been a civil rights and criminal defense attorney for 35 years, according to his campaign website. After earning his juris doctorate from Oklahoma City University in 1987, he worked as an Oklahoma County public defender for two years, then as a federal public defender for another two years. The majority of his criminal defense work has been at the federal level, and “95 percent” of his work has involved clients who have been discriminated against by employers, he said during Tuesday’s judicial forum.
“If I’m elected to the bench, I’m going to bring equity, equanimity, humanity to my courtroom,” Eddy said Tuesday.
His son, Jess Eddy, is a prominent activist in Oklahoma City’s progressive community who has been involved in a number of high-profile demonstrations over the past two years.
Miguel Garcia has experience in criminal defense law in cases such as, manslaughter, DUIs, fraud, assault and battery, possession of controlled and dangerous substances, drug trafficking and sex crimes, according to his law firm’s website. He also practices immigration law, exclusively specializing in obtaining residency, U.S. citizenship, and DACA cases.
Garcia did not attend Tuesday’s judicial forum.
Nikki Kirkpatrick (incumbent)
Incumbent Judge Nikki Kirkpatrick was appointed as an Oklahoma County district judge by Gov. Kevin Stitt in April 2021 to fill an unexpired term. Prior to her appointment, Kirkpatrick worked in the consumer protection unit at the Attorney General’s Office, and she formerly worked as a prosecutor in the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office, specializing in domestic violence prosecution.
During Tuesday’s forum, Kirkpatrick said she wanted to become a judge to continue her passion “of helping people” so that they can get a “fair shake in court” and turn their lives around.
Associate district judge: Kirby faces Henry, Singleton
Christian Henry has been a trial lawyer for 30 years and has tried “just about every case there is,” he said during Tuesday’s forum. He has experience practicing criminal law and juvenile law, as well as working in the public defender’s office in Caddo County and Grady County. He then worked as an assistant district attorney in Latimer County “for a number of years,” he said.
Henry is currently under contract in the juvenile justice system and said that, traditionally, the associate district judge serves as the presiding judge for that system. Henry said he would like to serve that role if elected. “I know it’s naive of me to think that I can walk in and retain that seat, but I’d sure like to try,” Henry said Tuesday.
Richard Kirby (incumbent)
Incumbent Judge Richard Kirby was first elected associate district judge in Oklahoma County in 2007, initially serving as the supervising judge for juvenile courts. Since 2014, he has presided over cases involving probate, guardianships and adoptions in Oklahoma County. Previously, Kirby also served as an attorney for former Gov. Frank Keating. He is looking to win his fourth reelection bid this year.
During Tuesday’s forum, Kirby was asked whether criminal justice reforms are needed in Oklahoma.
“Yes. Criminal justice reform should be looked at, at any time that it’s being presented. We should be given the opportunity to be considering new tools as we go along,” Kirby said. “We are a society that we learn as we go.”
After graduating with her juris doctorate from the University of Oregon in 2011, Angela Singleton began working as an assistant district attorney in the Oklahoma County Courthouse, primarily prosecuting homicides and violent criminals. In 2016, she opened her own private criminal defense practice, where she has represented defendants charged with DUI, drug offenses, gun charges, domestic violence amongst other offenses.
“We need fresh perspective — change — so we can bring our Oklahoma County Courthouse into a new era, one in which our community can have trust, fairness and respect.” Singleton said Tuesday.
Pair of special judges on Nov. 8 ballot for Ray Elliott’s vacated seat
Kathryn Savage serves as a special judge in Oklahoma County, and was first sworn into that position in November 2017. She previously served as an assistant district attorney in Oklahoma, Pottawatomie and Muskogee counties, and as a prosecutor in the Attorney General’s Office in the multi-county grand jury unit. Savage said during Tuesday’s forum that her past hardships — specifically growing up in poverty — have made her more relatable to those she sees on her docket.
“I think that gives me a perspective that a lot of people don’t have, and that’s something that you need when you’re seeing these kinds of people who are struggling,” Savage said.
James Siderias also serves as a special judge in Oklahoma County, beginning his tenure in April 2020. Prior to that, he worked as a prosecutor for more than a decade, prosecuting child abuse, sex crimes and violent offenders, according to his campaign website. In private practice, he focused on criminal defense and family law.
“I think what I bring to the table is transparency, discernment and some knowledge about the law,” Siderias said during Tuesday’s forum. “I try to apply my time as a prosecutor, my time as a private criminal defense attorney and civil litigation into all the decisions I make.”
11 automatically reelected Oklahoma County judge
Eleven incumbent Oklahoma County district judges went without a challenger filing in their race, meaning they were all automatically reelected to their respective posts for another four years. All judges that ran unopposed are listed below:
- Aletia Timmons was first elected to a district judge seat in 2014. She currently presides over a civil docket;
- Kaitlyn Allen, who was appointed as an Oklahoma County district judge by Gov. Kevin Stitt in August 2021, works in the Juvenile Justice Center. Allen’s sole opponent, Brian Young, was struck from the ballot after the Oklahoma State Election Board ruled in a 3-0 vote that he was not a legal resident of the proper electoral division at the time he filed his candidacy;
- Kenneth Stoner currently presides over the Oklahoma County drug court. He was appointed by former Gov. Mary Fallin in 2017;
- Brent Dishman, who presides over a civil docket in Oklahoma County, was appointed to the court by Stitt on Oct. 11, 2021, to replace Tim Henderson, who remains under criminal investigation for alleged sexual misconduct;
- Cindy Truong, who was first elected in 2018, currently oversees a civil docket;
- Heather Coyle was first elected in 2018. She currently presides over a criminal docket;
- Anthony Bonner, who was appointed by Stitt on April 5, 2021, presides over a civil docket;
- Susan Stallings was first elected in 2018. She presides over both a criminal and civil docket;
- Richard Ogden was first elected in 2018. He presides over a civil docket;
- Sheila Stinson, who was appointed by Stitt on July 17, 2020, presides over both a criminal and civil docket;
- Don Andrews, who was first elected in 2014, handles a civil docket.